Cardinal Knowledge

All the birds on the Lower East Side are tweeting about the crazy-looking flock that took up roost on Avenue D and 5th Street, on the side of the Lora Deli and Supermarket. Leading the pack is a giant, blazing-red cardinal, brandishing what looks to be a peacock’s tail, perched on a pair of clouds amidst a tropical storm. Around him flutter candy-colored pipers, as though a bunch of Twitter avatars had gone rogue and resurfaced in the jungle.

Photo courtesy Tim Schreier


The mesmerizing menagerie was brought to life, via paintbrush, roller, and spray can, over the course of one sunny Sunday by an ebullient, efficient, and energized team—two experienced muralists, H Veng Smith and Sofia Maldonado, and nine young artists, all soon-to-be or recent graduates of Brooklyn High School of the Arts and Brooklyn Tech. Presiding over it all was Jerry Otero, aka Mista Oh!, who had conjured the event as part of his youth development group, Cre8tive Youth*ink. Welcome to The Art School Without Walls, vol. 2—Organic New York w/Sofia Maldonado and H. Veng Smith.

The project began when some neighbors at 5th and D, disappointed that the Chico mural that had long adorned the Lora’s exterior was whitewashed, reached out to Mista Oh. They’d discovered Cre8tive Youth*ink (home of niborama and my Gallery Club) online and wondered if the group was willing to create a new mural on the site.

So Mista Oh called Sofia, a veteran of large walls (and skate parks) who’d collaborated so spectacularly with Cre8tive Youth last year on The Art School w/out Walls, Vol. 1 – Tropical Storm: Gowanus. That project, a kickstarter-funded mural on 4th Street near Hoyt–headquartered in Ray Smith’s nearby studio and painted by a changing roster of 25 kids–was so successful that even before it was finished it spawned a tiny raincloud on Tom Otterness’s wall across the way.

This time around, the team also recruited Veng, a street artist famous for his hyperrealistic yet surreal images of birds, frogs, and other fabulous fauna. With the help of a grant from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and a gift from the artist Retna (who painted the current mural at Bowery and Houston), the Art School Without Walls was underway.

The early bird really did get the worm when Chris, Crystal, and Moise J, Cre8tive Youth Peer Mentors who are veterans of several mural projects with Mista Oh, arrived at 8 a.m. to set up the site. In the spirit of apprenticeship that’s key to the group’s mission, they worked with Veng and Sofia to begin making their mutual vision a reality. From Sofia they honed their skills with paintbrush and roller, not to mention working as a well-oiled crew. From Veng, they learned how to wield a spray can as expertly as they do a paint brush. With the arrival of Alicia and Andrew—she a Pratt-bound Brooklyn Tech senior (and Brooklyn museum intern), he a freshman music major at Hunter College—Organic New York emerged, bursting forth in brilliant color.

It was soon clear that a match made in the spirit of youth development also made for a stunning artistic union: Sofia’s storm clouds were the perfect perches for Veng’s winged creatures, who grew brighter and more extravagant in the tropical climate. With four more kids turned up–Parsons student Vince and Cynthia (who’s studying art at Queens College), along with two more Brooklyn High School of the Arts students–Jesús and Naiky (a Parsons Pre-College Academy member)—the apprentices became the instructors. In the Cre8tive Youth spirit of “each one teach one,” the first group taught the second one; then they all worked together to finish the mural before nightfall. Just down the block from an urban paradise, El Jardín del Paraíso, Organic New York extended the garden (via the imagination) into the street, transforming the neighborhood—and everyone who took part in it. Cre8tive Youth friend Tim Schreier covered the event for The Local.

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