Mathews-Palmer Park, W45th St – 9th/10th Ave
In a playground sandwiched between 9th and 10th Avenues, kids play, residents sit in the sun, and the occasional dodgy deal is done … while all around are oblivious to the history in their midst.
The 60′ x 65′ mural occupying most of a block wall is fading, the stucco crumbling to obscure large parts of the image. But you can still just about make out a bulldozer against a backdrop of skyscrapers, with a grim figure slumped over large blocks of concrete. Two further circles show multiracial groups of people holding up books, flowers, flags. “We the people demand control of our communities,” reads a sign.
Against Domestic Colonialism is a loud, proud, anti-gentrification message that is as relevant today as when it was painted by renowned muralist Arnold Belkin back in 1972.
Belkin was born in Canada but, at the age of 18, moved to Mexico to study with David Alfaro Siqueiros, a key member of the Mexican Mural Movement. Belkin went on to produce many notable murals in Central America, but this is thought to be his only outdoor work in the US, and was one of the earliest community murals to be painted in New York City.
However, the years, the weather, and some insensitive wall repairs have not been kind, and the mural is now in a bad way. A campaign is underway to repair it for future generations to enjoy. The W46th Street Block Association is working with neighbors and heritage groups to raise money for the not inconsiderable task.
The playground was used to film the video for Paul Simon’s ‘Me and Julio down by the schoolyard’. It stood in for Halsey Junior High School in Forest Hills, Queens, the neighborhood in which Simon grew up and met Art Garfunkel in high school.
UPDATE June 2020: Since this article appeared in the April 2016 issue of W42ST magazine, the Mathews-Palmer playground has been updated, and nearly $50,000 has been raised for the mural. However, negotiations are ongoing with NYC District 3 City Council, NYC Park and Recreations, and with the cooperative whose wall the mural resides on. It is hoped that a wall resurfacing can happen this year. Once the wall is resurfaced, painting will be undertaken by restoration artist Denise Penizzotto. There will need to be a further fundraising for scaffolding. Keep updated on their website at http://www.mathews-palmer-playground-mural-arts-program.com/