Dec. 21, 2018 By Meghan Sackman
A series of murals and art pieces are springing up in the Jackson Heights and Elmhurst areas as part of a community public arts program.
The pieces, which include two murals, a film projection project, and a sculpture installed at a local park, are all in varying stages of completion, and are funded by ArtSite, a program by the Queens Council on the Arts.
The separate works were conceived of by four Queens-based artists, who each received $4,500 from the program to bring art to the community that reflects unique aspects of the area.
The artists were all selected by a panel that includes the 82nd Street Partnership and local leaders from Jamaica, where ArtSite artists are also embarking on public art projects there.
At 75th Street and 37th Avenue, artist Annabelle Popa, 23, is painting her mural called “Guardians of Jackson Heights” on a wall next to Image Heights Pharmacy.
Popa, who has lived in Jackson Heights since childhood, said her piece is based on the neighborhood’s French Rennaisance-influenced architecture, with the folkloric, majestic creatures through the mural helping to represent the myriad ethnic groups in the area.
These fantastical beings, Popa said, are depicted as “guardians” to the area—helping to protect the neighborhood.
The greenery in the piece was also sparked by “secret gardens” and courtyards Popa would see in the area as she walked home from her local Jackson Heights train station.
“Hopefully I can inspire people to get out of their routine and open their eyes to the area,” she said of her mural.
Popa began laying out and filling in the mural on Dec. 18, and plans to complete the project by New Years. Her artwork, however, will only stay up until June.
Just off Roosevelt Avenue on 82nd Street, Chemin Hsiao, another artist, is painting a mural on the rolling gate of Zaytoun Restaurant, located at 40-13 82nd St.
The mural also depicts a variety of animals as symbols of the neighborhood’s diversity.
“When I think of Jackson Heights, I see different people with different cultural backgrounds, all play together in one place,” Hsiao, a native of Taiwan, said in an email. “The narrative painting will grow from a playground setting, where various animals symbolizing different ethnic groups play together with each other.”
Hsiao began painting the mural in mid November, and has returned to work on the piece every Sunday since.
The mural, expected to be completed in a few weeks, is the third piece in Hsiao’s “Journey to the West” series, which started in 2013, with the new project aptly titled “”My Journey to the West III: Playground.”
While this installment will be painted on the restaurant’s rolling gate, Hsiao will work on a separate but related mural inside the restaurant as well.
One block away, artist Jimmy Ferguson is working on a film projection project called “Between Neighbors: Jackson Heights.”
The projections, which were still being tested on top of Pollos Mario’s on 81st Street last night, will show black and white images taken from inside the 7 train.
Ferguson, an Elmhurst resident, said the piece is inspired by the tradition of black and white photojournalism that has been used to record the early history of the city through its subways for more than a hundred years, according to ArtSite.
The subway, today, he said, still provides a look into who makes up a neighborhood, with Jackson Heights’ diversity showcased in the abundance of cultures, languages and faces on the 7 line.
While work on the murals and projections has recently started, one artist under the program has already debuted her artwork.
Yvonne Shortt’s “What We Carry” was unveiled at at Elmhurst’ Dunningham Triangle in November, and consists of a sculpture and flower installation that celebrates immigrants.
Shortt, from Forest Hills, said the sculpture’s carvings and designs, and the flowers created by community members in workshops, work to illustrate the immigrant journey and how neighborhoods are influenced by them.
The public art pieces are expected to be in place until the spring.
Leslie Ramos, executive director of the 82nd Street Partnership, said the initiative both beautifies the neighborhood and provides artists with an outlet for their works.
“This project is giving Queens artists a platform to express their art and ideas when they had none, Ramos said. “We have a multicultural connection—when you see this art, you don’t need words to understand it.”