The community came together to breathe new life into a mural at the entrance of the senior center at Astoria Houses in Queens. The mural, which was created in 1981, depicts Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his monumental “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Rosa Parks sitting peacefully but firmly at the front of a bus, Mahatma Gandhi meditating, marchers holding hands, as well as Reverend King lifting a young child while surrounded by his family.
But after 35 years of inspiring all who admired it, it had started to fade and crack. That was a call to action for City Council Member Costa Constantinides, whose district includes Astoria Houses. He discussed the matter with Astoria Houses Resident Association President Claudia Coger, and they teamed up with a local labor union to give the mural a new life.
The mural’s subtle colors and details were important to Davon Lomax of District Council (DC) 9, the labor union representing painters and allied trades. “We set out to restore the original luster with respect to the artist who created it,” he said. “There was color blending and details that we didn’t want to lose.”
The union provided 20 volunteer painters and decorators at no cost to the center, according to Mr. Lomax. The workers were drawn from DC 9’s four-year apprenticeship program at the Finishing Trades Institute in Long Island City, Queens. When not scraping, power washing, and retouching faded areas of the mural (and giving adjacent window grates a fresh coat of paint), they were completing coursework at the Institute and working at construction and residential sites.
The mural’s restoration will impact the entire neighborhood, said Debra Barnes-Hinnant, Astoria Houses’ property manager: “The mural is part of a larger neighborhood approach to public art, which encourages more art. I often see filmmakers use our wall art as background for music videos.”
Residents of Astoria Houses, she added, benefit more directly: The mural connects us to our historic struggle for civil rights; it is not a picture of dead history – it connects us to the continuing story of our lives.