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State Parks ditches controversial Marsha P. Johnson mural following backlash

Marsha P. Johnson Park
The mural proposed for Marsha P. Johnson State Park.
New York State Parks

A controversial plan to splash the waterfront Marsha P. Johnson State Park in Williamsburg with an ostentatious mural of rainbow colors — ostensibly in honor of the park’s namesake LGBTQ icon — has been scrapped following an outcry from Johnson’s family and other activists over a lack of public input. 

A local rep for the state’s Parks Department wrote a March 9 letter to local Community Board 1 saying the agency will continue working on infrastructure upgrades to the greenspace on Kent Avenue between N. Eighth and N. 10th streets, but they’ll solicit feedback from the public on the space’s design. 

“The interpretive design elements of this project will not be installed until we can develop a new path forward with the community,” said New York City regional director Leslie Wright in the Tuesday missive. “This means no mural will be placed on the historical concrete slabs in the park and no floral interpretive elements will be installed in the gantry plaza area. We will work hand in hand with the community to identify a more appropriate commemorative design.”

Builders paused the revamp of the park on Friday after family members and Black trans activists slammed the state Parks Department at a community meeting the night before for pushing through an unpopular redesign of the park, and using the late gay rights icon Marsha P. Johnson as a publicity prop to promote the $14 million overhaul — which some described as little more than a pricey pet project of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Large flower sculptures with information about the history of Johnson will also not be part of the design.New York State Parks

Family members said that the agency left them in the dark about the project’s unpopularity with locals and activists with organizations like  Strategic Transgender Alliance for Radical Reform (STARR) a group working to honor the legacy of Johnson and fellow gay liberation activist Sylvia Rivera — said they had been deliberately left out of the design process, during a heated meeting with CB1’s Parks committee March 4. 

Wright apologized in her March 9 letter for not doing more outreach for the overhaul of the site formerly known as East River State Park. 

“The leadership of the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation have heard the feedback and realized that the design outreach we did was simply not enough, and for that we are deeply sorry,” Wright wrote. 

Marsha P. Johnson under construction on March 3.Photo by Kevin Duggan

The agency will still move ahead on construction of a new park house, stormwater drainage improvements, installation of a new water line, pathways, and restored cobbles, along with repairing the post-industrial concrete platforms. 

But for the design, the agency will start hosting full-day public workshops beginning as soon as April, according to Wright. 

“Our open space is extremely vital to our communities,” she wrote. “It is important that we get this right and that we get this open to our community. With your help we are confident we can do both.”

The state announced the park’s colorful facelift in honor of Johnson in August, but chose not to notify locals about a six-month closure of most of the space until the eve of construction start in January, with the project scheduled to wrap up in June. 

Locals immediately took issue with the mural, saying the thermoplastic rainbow artwork was gaudy and did a disservice to both the park’s industrial past and the legacy of Johnson, who fought in the 1969 Stonewall uprising in Manhattan.

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