Artist aims to spread hope in Sunset Park with digital billboards at two subway stations

3458672 Charlie Hewitt Studio BC46 New York Digital Urban Panel 2022.04.18 1
One of Charlie Hewitt’s “Hopeful” billboards at the 45th Street subway station in Sunset Park.

A digital artist expanded his public art project into Sunset Park last week, aiming to spread hope in the neighborhood following the April 12 mass shooting in the 36th Street subway station.

“I just responded to it immediately in a visceral way, I had to do something,” said Charlie Hewitt, a nationally known artist and longtime New York City resident who moved back to his home state of Maine. “And if I could illuminate in any way the life of any going down into those corridors to those trains after that terrible event, I wanted to do it.”  

The project — called “Hopeful,” and which solely displays the eponymous word — was launched by Hewitt in his home state of Maine in 2019 and has since spread across the northeast into Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland and the Big Apple.

“I had an opportunity to put something,” he told Brooklyn Paper, “and I wanted to say something that would be compelling, and compel me to act, to be responsible, to reach out in a positive way.” 

The artist said he started the project after looking back on his life and feeling disappointed in his lack of inclusivity — and wanting to change that. 

“My inspiration was a personal feeling of getting out of my own rut,” said Hewitt, born in 1946. “I was somewhat humiliated by my inability…to be more inclusive. To not have been willing to get out and stand in the middle and try to have people come and meet me.”

The artist brought his installations to Sunset Park after hearing about this month’s shooting that injured 23 people and wreaked havoc across the transit system. Now, “Hopeful” is on display at the 36th Street station, where subway riders were seen funneling from the train followed by clouds of smoke after the shooting, and at the nearby 45th Street stop.

“I have the technology, I have the imagery, I have the ‘Hopeful’ project already in place,” said Hewitt. “It was very simple, it just had to be done.”

Hewitt isn’t the first artist to try and spread some light in Sunset Park after the shooting. Acclaimed New York City sidewalk chalk artist Hans Honschar left colorful messages on the pavement outside the station the day after the shooting.

chalk message on the sidewalk in sunset park
Artist Hans Hans Honschar left colorful messages on the sidewalk outside the 36th Street subway station the day after a shooting left 23 people injured.Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

And this isn’t the first time Hewitt has responded to a neighborhood’s needs — the creator told Brooklyn Paper that he’s often asked by community members to bring his art installation into their neighborhood. Just last month, six of Hewitt’s “Hopeful” art displays were installed in the Bronx after he received a direct message on Instagram from a resident who said her borough needed some positivity.

“Because I do them for the community, the community gets invested in the narrative,” the artist said, “and it’s interesting what happens is it’s not even my piece any longer, it actually belongs to people who are participating in it emotionally.” 

Brooklyn’s new bright purple, green, yellow, and red billboards were first illuminated on April 18 and will remain lit throughout the month at the two subway stations.

Hewitt said he selected bright colors for Sunset Park’s displays to focus on the diversity and inclusion that the community represents.

“The bright colors [are] because the narrative has gotten black and white, and this talks about inclusion, brightness, openness, colorful, expressive,” he said.

Know a neighborhood that could use some ‘Hopeful’ artwork? Contact artist Charlie Hewett directly on Instagram at @_hopefulproject or through his website.