NYC HEALTH + HOSPITALS/LINCOLN DEBUTS NEW MURAL CREATED WITH INPUT FROM BRONX YOUTH AFFECTED BY GUN VIOLENCE
The new mural is born from a yearlong engagement with NYC Health + Hospitals’ gun violence interruption programs and those intimately affected by the associated trauma
NYC Department of Cultural Affairs’ Public Artists in Residence (PAIR) program embeds artists across city agencies to respond to pressing civic challenges
The artist, Fernando “Ski” Romero, developed the mural with youth who participate in the gun violence interruption initiative Guns Down, Life Up at Lincoln Hospital.
The ¡Oye! Group developed a workshop where participants used disposable cameras to capture their experience living in the South Bronx, and the artist incorporated those images into the final mural using silkscreen and collage. The mural features participants and staff from Guns Down, Life Up and is located along the hallways where the program meets, and it includes QR codes with their videos, poems, and artwork.
The new mural, United, is one of the projects planned with ¡Oye! Groupand Modesto “Flako” Jimenez, the 2022-23 NYC Public Artist in Residence who has been embedded in the health system’s community and gun violence interruption programs over the past year. His residency is a program of the health system’s Arts in Medicine department, and funding for the residency is provided by NYC Health + Hospitals, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.
To break the cycle of violence, the health system’s hospital-based intervention pairs credible messengers – people who have experienced gun violence and live in the community – with doctors, social workers, and other clinical staff who treat patients at the bedside. NYC Health + Hospitals’ Violence Interruption Programs also provide conflict mediation, prevention and youth empowerment, and community outreach and mobilization services in response to community and gun violence. Flako has spent the past year meeting with hospital-based violence interruption staff at NYC Health + Hospitals facilities and in the community, followed by months of creative workshops with youth participating in Guns Down, Life Up, the gun violence interruption program at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln.
In addition to the new mural, the results of the yearlong residency include a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet written and performed by participants of Guns Down, Life Up; a monthlong gallery exhibit of art and photography; and a showcase at Carnegie Hall’s Resnick Education Wing with interactive painting, poetry readings, a theater performance, and a brief documentary about Flako’s residency with NYC Health + Hospitals.
“Gun violence is a scourge of our time,” said Laurie Tisch, founder and president of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. “Guns Down, Lives Up is a groundbreaking program utilizing the arts to help address the trauma of gun violence experienced by youth, and to offer community and creativity as alternatives to violence. We are proud to support this dynamic and innovative program.”
“Arts in Medicine is all about serving our patients and our staff through the arts, and today’s mural does just that,” said NYC Health + Hospitals Assistant Vice President for Arts in Medicine Larissa Trinder. “For years Lincoln Hospital has supported young people in the South Bronx who have experienced gun violence through its Guns Down, Life Up program. The artists for today’s mural worked collaboratively with the participants and staff of Guns Down, Life Up to show what a safe, thriving block in the South Bronx can look like, filled with the stories in participants’ own voices through QR codes that link to stories and poetry. We are grateful to the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and, as always, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund for their support.”
“This remarkable new mural reminds us of the power of artists to help us approach age old problems from new angles, and that the process of creative collaboration can be a profound way to explore shared experiences and foster community healing,” said Cultural Affairs Commissioner Laurie Cumbo.
“Bringing creative practice into public service is the basis of our Public Artists in Residence program, which partnered artists with members of the NYC Health + Hospitals community to generate this extraordinary artwork. Congratulations to the members of the Guns Down, Life Up program, and artists Flako Jimenez and Fernando ‘Ski’ Romero on the completion of this amazing new mural at NYC Health + Hospital’s Lincoln Hospital.”
“Guns Down Life Up is extremely honored to work with resident artist Flako. Our youth are extremely engaged and have been given the opportunity to express themselves through art. The mural, gallery exhibit and modern adaption of Romeo and Juliet have provided a safe space for our students and credible messengers to memorialize their loved ones. They’re celebrating life through artistic expression and not focusing on the tragedy. We appreciate the constant support of CEO Christopher Roker, and we’re grateful to NYC Health + Hospitals, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund for funding this program. We’ve been able to provide our youth with an unforgettable summer and we hope to keep this collaboration going in the future,” said James Dobbins, Director of Community Initiatives for Violence Interruption Programs at NYC Health + Hospitals.
“I have worked on many different projects, but this one has taught me a different approach to creating Art,” said Muralist Fernando “Ski” Romero.
“I had the honor for working with the kids from Guns Down, Life Up gathering their stories and inspiration for me to then create this immersive experience at Lincoln Hospital that not only does it celebrate the community, but it also speaks to you. Thank you Flako Jimenez and OYE Group for trusting me with your vision and connecting so many dots to make this happen. And a huge thank you to NYC Health + Hospitals for understanding the value of art and I am honored to be a part of your growing art collection. Together we can not only change the perception of the health industry, but also help the healing process.”
As part of his residency, Flako is creating several projects related to his engagement with those who have experienced the trauma of gun violence firsthand:
- Interactive mural at Lincoln Hospital: Designed and created by Flako and graffiti artist Fernando “Ski” Romero, the new mural is installed at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln and features realistic and uplifting scenes of the South Bronx and members of the Guns Down, Life Up community. The mural includes QR codes with videos, poems, and artwork created by participants of Guns Down, Life Up and credible messengers.
- Romeo and Juliet, a modern adaptation: Over a period of six weeks, participants of Guns Down, Life Up participated in workshops to develop a modern adaptation and performance of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Participants adapted the play by adding street slang and modern English. They considered the kind of justice they would like to see in their community and how to represent this through a modern, Bronx adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. They were introduced to the rudiments of the theater-making process and developed skills in acting, memorization, adaptation, staging, and performance while creating dynamic new characters based on Shakespeare’s plays. The performance was on Friday, August 25 and was free and open to the public.
- Gallery exhibit: A gallery exhibit of photography, film, poetry, and other creations by participants of Guns Down, Life Up was on display at Materials for the Arts in Queens from August 17 to September 12. The exhibit showcased the visual interpretations of the adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, giving visitors a glimpse into their process using found objects, video confessionals, drawings, sculptures, and photography. Materials for the Arts, a program of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, is New York City’s premier creative reuse center, which provides arts nonprofits, public schools and City agencies with access to a vast range of free materials and supplies. The exhibit was free and open to the public.
- Showcase at Carnegie Hall: On November 14, Carnegie Hall’s Resnick Education Wing will host an interactive performance of Flako’s and the youth participants’ work. The showcase will include a performance of scenes from Romeo and Juliet, written and performed by the participants of Guns Down, Life Up; poetry readings; a brief documentary; and an opportunity to help paint the mural designed by Flako and Ski. The event will be free and open to the public.
- Documentary: A documentary about Flako’s residency highlighting violence interruption programs at NYC Health + Hospitals will be shown later this year and made available to the public for free.
Modesto Flako Jimenez is a Dominican-born, Bushwick-raised, multi-hyphenate artist. As an artist, his work exists in and explores the intersections of identity, language, mediums, cultures, and communities found in his personal life and beyond. Flako co-founded the ¡Oye! Group, which has amplified new voices for over a decade. His recent immersive theater show, Taxilandia, was a New York Times Critic’s Pick and received an Obie Award.
Fernando “Ski” Romero is a New York-based graffiti muralist whose career began in 1990 painting trains in New York. His art has been featured on House of Lies, Californication, and The Ray Donovan show along with group shows in the U.S. and internationally. He has a degree in Marketing/Advertising communication from the Parsons School of Design.
With some of the busiest emergency departments and trauma centers in New York City and nationally, NYC Health + Hospitals has a long history of treating and responding to community and gun violence. Each year, the health system treats about 9,000 patients who are victims of community and gun violence and in response has developed innovative, results-driven program to diagnose, prevent, and treat this disease and promote healing in our communities. The health system’s hospital-based Violence Interruption Programs incorporate a multi-disciplinary approach consisting of credible messengers, social workers, and physicians to treat the patients at the bedside, mediate conflicts with the patient and their loved ones, and connect patients to supportive services to try to break the cycle of violence. NYC Health + Hospitals’ violence interruption programs also partner with youth to offer positive alternatives to violence, including long-term peer mentoring, afterschool programming, financial literacy, job training, financial literacy and job readiness, paid internships, and community outreach and mobilization.
The network of program sites include Guns Down, Life Up at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln; Stand Up to Violence at NYC Health + Hospitals/Jacobi; Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI) at NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County; Harlem Crossroads at NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem; and NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull.
The NYC Department of Cultural Affairs selected Flako as one of the artists for the City’s 2022-23 Public Artists in Residence (PAIR) program, which embeds socially engaged artists within City government to propose solutions to civic challenges. Each artist receives a $40K stipend, dedicated workspace within their respective agencies, and ongoing technical assistance and support as they develop and implement their public-facing art projects. PAIR was inspired by artist Mierle Ukeles’ pioneering artist residency with the NYC Department of Sanitation, which started in the late 1970s. Since its 2015 launch, PAIR has placed 24 artists in residence with 15 City agencies. A full list is available on the Cultural Affairs website.
Banner Image: Part of United, the new mural by Fernando “Ski” Romero at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln. Image Credit – NYC DCA