I Am New York
On November 5, 2020, a massive black and white mural was revealed overlooking the FDR highway. The work was designed by 105-year-old Cuban artist Carmen Herrera and was painted by students of Publicolor, an after school youth development program.
[ Man speaking indistinctly in background ]
My name is Kahlauney Berete, and I'm in ninth grade.
How does it feel to achieve this success?
It was wonderful, it's epic --
to look at something that's,
you know, honorable to someone.
It's just -- it's unbelievable.
It took 90 years to get her recognition.
And so when I look at the wall,
I see empowerment for women
and not just empowerment,
but, you know, for me to do her work, and it looks similar,
it's an honor.
[ Group applauding ]
Man: Carmen Herrera, she's overdue, you know,
she's 105, she has been painting all of her life
and has only recently been recognized.
So she was a woman, she was Cuban,
at the wrong time, in the wrong place.
And it took her a while to get recognition.
You know, one of the most interesting things about her
is that people always ask her,
are you angry that you were ignored all this time?
And she says, no, being ignored is a form of freedom.
I have huge admiration of Carmen Herrera,
I -- I just -- I'm so touched
that she loves the idea of students
translating her work.
Well, first of all, this is the school
where I did my pilot project back in 1994,
and so the school is very special to me.
I founded Publicolor to creatively engage
high-risk, low-income students in their education,
and over the years we started off
by painting public spaces in struggling schools.
But now we've developed a whole continuum of programs
where we're with our students
for a minimum of three days a week,
for four to six years, as we're empowering them to plan
and prepare for success in school,
college, work, and life.
Berete: The Publicolor program is so important to me
because it's like a family.
I started when I was very young.
I used to get bullied for my height and age
and Publicolor, like,
they just made me get into this world
where you shouldn't worry about what people think.
They help me with finances.
I'm in high school to where they're going to help me
with my college when I get there.
It's a big opportunity, whether you need them
when you don't have nothing, or when you have something,
they're always there.
And I just feel like that's -- that's what family's about.
To have Carmen Herrera be the artist
and to know that it was done so perfectly by students,
it's something so unique that you can't quite describe it.
Well, I hope that anybody who sees the mural,
whether they're from the FDR, or as students and families,
I think they want -- they feel pride,
not just about Publicolor and the students,
but also about East Harlem,
about the fact that we have great public education,
and that arts education is alive and well,
even though we need a lot more of it.
And this amazing woman has made her art possible
for public school students in New York City.
I just hope it lifts their spirits.
I really believe that art has the power to heal
and feed our souls,
and I hope that they're inspired seeing this.
Berete: It's epic, it's just -- it's unbelievable.
I don't even have words for it.
I'm only 14 in the ninth grade.
I'm still young.
And to do this is just incredible.
[ Laughs ]
Bechara: It surprises me to see a mural that is geometric,
that it is in this environment,
in this urban, tough environment,
and it competes with the area,
it competes with the noise, the traffic, the cars;
and it stands out.
It is a kind of a mural that says, "I am New York."
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