In 1996, Groundswell’s first mural went up on a building in Williamsburg. That piece, addressing the topic of tenants’ rights, no longer exists. It’s been whitewashed. But the nonprofit, which is dedicated to student art and activism, is still making its mark across the city with 500 murals and counting.
Robyne Walker Murphy, the social justice organization’s new executive director, has noticed Groundswell’s work as long as she’s lived in New York, some 18 years now.
“These murals were just a part of the landscape — part of my daily walk or just being in the neighborhood,” said Murphy, an art and social justice educator and administrator who joined the organization a year ago. “You would just see them everywhere.”
The murals are a large part of the organization’s mission — working with teaching artists, students primarily from ages 16 to 19, local groups and schools to address issues affecting the community and creating public art that reflects those issues.
“We’re not just painting things to make it really beautiful,” Murphy said. “We’re speaking to issues like police brutality and sexual harassment. We’re also talking about possibility and celebrating the beauty in these communities, too.”
In recent years, Groundswell has also expanded its programming to reach more students and people interested in “artivism” — a portmanteau of art and activism.