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First Lady Chirlane McCray, Health Department Unveil First Installment of the New York City Mural Arts Project

July 12, 2017

City celebrates the first of three murals in the Bronx and Manhattan promoting community engagement and mental health awareness through ThriveNYC

NEW YORK — Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett, P.S. 211 Principal Tanya Drummond, VIP Community Services CEO Debbie Pantin and artist Tova Snyder hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a large-scale mural at P.S. 211 in the Bronx yesterday. The new installation marks the end of the first year of the NYC Mural Arts Project, a collaborative effort between local artists, mental health professionals, community-based organizations and the community at large, specifically New Yorkers living with mental illness. The first installation titled “Planting the Seeds of Tomorrow” explores themes of mental health, and it is the first of three murals being unveiled this month by the NYC Mural Arts Project. Ribbon cuttings for the two other installations, one in Manhattan and another in the Bronx, will take place in the coming weeks. The NYC Mural Arts Project is a new effort associated with the City’s leading mental health initiative of ThriveNYC centers on increasing mental health services and awareness. The effort aligns with the First Lady Chirlane McCray’s goal of building social cohesion and reducing the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

“The collaboration between our local artists, mental health professionals and community-based organizations is a powerful force in our mission to promote mental health. This project encourages New Yorkers to tackle the stigma around mental illness with activism, and by creating public art,” said the First Lady of NYC Chirlane McCray, who leads the City’s mental health and substance misuse efforts.

“Stigma can prevent people living with mental illness or a substance use disorder from seeking help,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “The NYC Mural Arts Project is working with mental health consumers and the communities where they live to use art to spark conversations about mental illness. Our goal is to reduce stigma so people seek care as soon as they need it.”

“Social-emotional and mental health supports in schools are critical to ensuring students are prepared for success in the classroom and beyond," said School Chancellor Carmen Fariña. "I applaud P.S. 211 in the Bronx for their work to promote mental health awareness and increase community involvement around this important topic.”

“We are pleased to take part in the Mural Arts Project,” said Sara Gardner, Executive Director of the Fund for Public Health in NYC. “This is an important opportunity to use art to bring mental illness out of the shadows and encourage New Yorkers to seek services that will help them flourish.”

The NYC Mural Arts Project recently debuted a video featuring Health Commissioner Dr. Bassett, Executive Deputy Commissioner of Mental Hygiene Dr. Gary Belkin and New Yorkers living with mental illness who helped create the mural. The video is available here.

One in five New Yorkers experiences a mental health disorder in any given year, and 41 percent of New Yorkers with serious mental illness do not receive or delay treatment. The aim of the NYC Mural Arts Project is to use art to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and encourage the wider community to talk to each other about mental health. 

The NYC Mural Arts Project completed three large murals in its first year. In addition to the mural at P.S. 211, the initiative includes an installation at the Theater Arts Production Company School in the Bronx and on the Port Authority Bridge on 34th Street in Manhattan. The two murals in the Bronx were created by muralist Tova Snyder and members of the non-profit VIP Community Services; the mural in Manhattan was created by artist Andrew Frank Baer and members of the Fountain House Gallery. Next year, the NYC Mural Arts Project will organize three additional murals about mental health in Morris Heights and Morrisania in the Bronx, and in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. 

“I am proud of joining the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, VIP Community Services, and P.S. 211 at the unveiling of 'Planting the Seeds of Tomorrow', part of ThriveNYC's Mural Arts Project,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “This artistic project has not only provided our communities a unique opportunity to foster important conversations about mental health, but it will continue to raise awareness about the challenges associated with these illnesses. Further, this beautiful mural is going to add a meaningful piece of street art that will, without a doubt, beautify this Bronx neighborhood.”   

"I was honored to participate in the unveiling ceremony for the NYC Mural Arts Project in conjunction with V.I.P. Community Services, the New York City Office of Health and Mental Health and Public School 211,” said Assembly Member Michael Blake. “This project is raising awareness of mental health issues while also adding a truly beautiful mural to The Bronx community. It was truly inspiring to see the positive impact this collaboration of artists and people living with mental health issues or a substance use disorder had through the creation of this mural. In a city where one in five people are afflicted by a form of mental illness, we must all do our part in supporting and advocating for the needs of those who are affected by mental illness. I am extremely grateful to the Commissioner of New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, Public School 211 Principal Tanya Drummond, the entire VIP Community Services team, and artist Tova Snyder for what they’ve done and look forward to seeing this mural for years to come."

“Murals like the one unveiled today are socially such an important aspect of the culture of our borough and our city,” said Assembly Member Victor Pichardo. “They tell stories and reflect the ideals of the communities you find them in. This mural presents an important message on the stigma surrounding mental illness, and how we must rise above it and ensure people in need are not ignored. The Mural Arts Project has done a great job in highlighting an important issue and ensuring that this symbol stands in the community for years to come.”

“An individual’s journey with mental health and substance abuse is deeply personal,” said Council Member Andrew Cohen.  “Whether you have never dealt with mental illness or are still struggling, the Mural Arts Project is an opportunity to better understand the stories of New Yorkers living with mental illness or substance abuse disorder. I thank the artists for dedicating their time and sharing their story.”

"I found it very inspiring to work with the VIP and school community in the Bronx," said Tova Snyder, lead artist of the murals at P.S. 211. "One day during installation, a mother walked by with her child and said, 'Thank you - this is great. An Open Book means an Open Mind.' It is great when a public artwork stimulates dialogue on mental health in a positive way."

“VIP Community Services wishes to thank NYC Mural Arts Project for this initiative,” said Carmen Rivera, Assistant Vice President of Communications and External Affairs, VIP Community Services. “The participants benefitted from the experience. The empowerment to be a part of the effort to reduce the stigma of mental health was fantastic for them.”

“Fountain House Gallery is a community that is well versed in expressing their perspective on mental illness,” said Andrew Frank Baer, lead artist of the mural at the Port Authority Bridge, which will have its ribbon cutting later this month. “The artists of Fountain House Gallery all have wonderful and unique skill sets. These artists welcomed me into their community with open arms to work on this project, and I am grateful for their sincerity in creating a work to speak to others about the effects of stigma on mental illness. While creating this mural, I’ve heard many people say that they have experienced the feelings we depicted on the wall. The protagonist sometimes has a hard time just leaving his house. Through working on this project with members of Fountain House Gallery, I learned that stigma is a lot more widespread that I had thought. External stigma and even self-stigma can lead to real-world negative consequences that affect people’s family life and employment opportunities, separate from the effects of living with a mental illness. This project shines a light on the theme of stigma and inversely, the joys of being part of a welcoming community.”

“The New York City Mural Arts Project has been an incredible opportunity for Fountain House on many levels,” said Fountain House President Kenn Dudek. “Not only does it align with the Fountain House Gallery mission to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness through art, but the mural location is a place of significance for New York City's homeless population. It is estimated that 40% of the homeless population lives with mental illness and we want them to know there is a community of support they can access through Fountain House. This mural has been a welcome opportunity to share our message of hope for people living with serious mental illness and we are proud to be a long-term fixture in the artistic landscape of the city.”                     

“This was a spiritual journey and allowed me to look within myself,” said Freddie J., a participant from VIP Community Services

About the Community Partners

VIP Community Services was founded in 1974 to provide social services in the Bronx. The nonprofit serves approximately 25,000 clients and patients annually through residential care, outpatient counseling, shelter care, medical services, housing and employment services.

Fountain House Gallery provides an environment for artists living and working with mental illness to pursue their creative visions and to challenge the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

About the Artists

Tova Snyder received a Master of Fine Arts from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. Her work includes public and commercial murals, fresco painting and restoration. Her largest piece of public art is a six-story mural off the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.

Andrew Frank Baer studied fine art at Brooklyn College. His work has been shown in galleries in Washington, D.C. and New York City, and he has painted large murals in New York City.

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