Paint over hate: Artists unveil anti-bullying mural at Park Slope school

Paint over hate: Artists unveil anti-bullying mural at Park Slope school
Photo by Elissa Esher

An artistic group of volunteers unveiled a sprawling new mural at PS 321 elementary school in Park Slope on Saturday, wrapping up a lengthy process of sprucing up the schoolyard with a whimsical assemblage of sea-creatures, cityscapes, and more.

“There’s something really special about having something beautiful and uplifting in a place where there used to just be an old wall,” said Lauren Gropp Lowry, Co-President of the Parent-Teacher Association at P.S. 321. “The kids are really excited to have something new and bright in the space they play in all the time.”

Renowned local muralist Jeff Beler helped curate the artistic wall, which was filled to capacity with ideas from the school children — who read Susan Verde’s “Hey, Wall” to find inspiration, and presented Beler with objects and quotes they wanted to see depicted in the mural.

“I’d never done an interactive project like that before,” said Beler. “It made it such a gratifying experience, both for the artists and the kids. Someone sent me a video of the kid’s reactions when they first saw it and they were just screaming and jumping up and down looking at it.”

The leadership of the school gave Beler — and his band of twelve other artists who helped with the project — a long leash to interpret the children’s vision, but asked for the mural to include an overarching theme of “anti-hate.”

To keep with the loving message, Beler depicted inspirational quotes on self-love through the mural, and some of the female students wrote “Magical Feminist” to include a female empowerment message.

One of Beler’s fellow artists, Paulie Nassar, said he wrote the name of the school in rainbow when an LGBTQ student complained about the lack of rainbows on the wall.

“It was a great project to be a part of because this school is such a progressive and tolerant environment,” said Nassar. “You could tell that from the conversations we heard the kids having about what we were painting. I love thinking of that kid walking out and seeing those rainbows every day.”

The mural was a true community project, as the funding came largely from donations by local artists and sponsorships from surrounding businesses. Workers at Calvin Jones Construction company volunteered to surface prep the wall — which was riddled with holes from its past life as a rock climbing wall — and Blick Art Supply offered artists a 20 percent discount on the painting supplies.

And the neighborhood’s efforts will be long lasting, according to Beler, who estimated the mural would remain in good condition for nearly a decade.

“This mural is such a positive message in the midst of everything that’s going on right now,” said Beler. “I wish I had something like this at my school when I was a kid.”

Mural curator Jeff Beler and artist AJ Lavilla, along with parents and 11 other artists, made P.S. 321’s concrete wall come to life in a little less than two weeks.
Suly Reyes