Health and Transportation Departments Transform Two South Bronx Stairwells into Murals to Encourage Physical Activity

35 percent of residents of Morrisania and Crotona are obese, the highest rate in the city

August 18, 2017 — The Health Department and the Department of Transportation today announced the installation of two large-scale murals on outdoor stairs in the South Bronx. The murals, designed by Bronx-based artists, emphasize the role of the built environment in promoting exercise. In 2015, 29.6 percent of South Bronx residents did not exercise in the past 30 days, ranking 47 out of 59 community districts in the city. The rate of obesity in Morrisania and Crotona — the neighborhoods in the South Bronx where the murals are located — is the highest in the city at 35 percent. Diana Perea’s mural, Blue-Winged Warbler, features patterns found in nature and the blue-winged warbler, a bird native to the Bronx. It can be found at Third Avenue and Weiher Court. Josie Gonzalez’s mural, Rise Up, depicts a mythical bird which was inspired by symbols in the indigenous and Spanish-speaking communities. It is installed at Third Avenue and 164th Street. The mural artists were selected through an open call led by ArtBridge, a nonprofit organization that exhibits art in public spaces across the city. The artists partnered with DreamYard, a South Bronx-based youth arts organization, to host a series of hands-on youth workshops that inspired the mural designs. The murals have temporary permits and will remain through July 2018.

“Exercise is essential for good health, and taking the stairs is a quick and easy way to incorporate exercise into a busy day,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “Adding colorful murals is a way to encourage people in the South Bronx to take the stairs every day.”

“For New York City's urban planners, step streets were a creative and practical way to navigate steep changes in the landscape,” said New York City Department of Transportation Assistant Commissioner of Urban Design + Art + Wayfinding Wendy Feuer. “Using the stairs as a canvas for beautiful and colorful murals builds on that original effort, encouraging physical activity by making it more fun to walk up and down.”

“It's wonderful to see art and public health come together to provide kids with an innovative, unique, safe place to play and be creative,” said James Siegal, CEO of KaBOOM! “This project is at the vanguard of transforming everyday spaces into vibrant places for kids and families, and we are excited to see what other ideas this will inspire across NYC and beyond.”

“Activating these unique pathways with bright, engaging murals highlights step streets as a cornerstone of Bronx pedestrian culture, showcases local artistic talent, and promotes health,” said ArtBridge Executive Director Stephen Pierson. “This project has been, at every stage, community-driven – from the open call for artists to the youth workshops at DreamYard to outpouring of support from local residents throughout the installation process.”

“We are always grateful to be a hub for planning and engaging in civic projects in our community — fueled by our community,” said Haydil Henriquez, Co-Director of the DreamYard Art Center. “We are thrilled to be a part of the place-based art making process and are ecstatic to see murals reflecting the vibrancy of the South Bronx!"

Stairwell Murals

“We are grateful for KaBOOM!’s support of Mayor de Blasio’s Building Healthy Communities initiative,” said Sara Gardner, Executive Director of the Fund for Public Health in New York City. “The transformation of two open-air staircases creates an inviting opportunity for children to access vibrant public spaces for exercise and play.”

“The design evokes playfulness in that the bird is peeking from within the pattern, almost as if part of a game of hide and go seek,” said artist Diana Perea. “The different sizes of hexagons evoke a sense of building blocks like those children play with. Per community feedback while we were painting, I even added a few bees to the design."

“I created a mythical bird — part Phoenix, Thunderbird, Puerto Rican parrot, and Quetzal — symbols of power and freedom in indigenous, Spanish-speaking communities,” said artist Josie Gonzalez. “Indigenous Taino designs are painted along the border squares, inspired by petroglyphs created by the indigenous people of the Caribbean.”

“Any initiative that works to simultaneously beautify our community and promote a healthy lifestyle is a huge win for our families,” said Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Jr.

“I commend the Departments of Health and Transportation for bringing this joint public health and public art project to the streets of the South Bronx,” said Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson. “Taking the stairs is a simple, cost-free way of getting healthy and staying fit. I thank Department of Health and Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Mary Basset and Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg for bringing these murals to our steps streets and the Bronx's #Not62 campaign to improve the well-being of our community.”

Funding for the mural project was provided through the KaBOOM! Play Everywhere Challenge, one of 50 projects nationwide that received funding through a $1 million competition to select and implement the best ideas for creating play opportunities for kids in unexpected places. Technical support for the grants was provided through the Fund for Public Health in New York City. All paint materials for this project were donated by Liquitex Artist Materials.

About the Artists

Josie Gonzalez is a Bronx-based artist who creates, designs, paints and also works as an educator and administrator with schools, museums, hospitals and community groups throughout NYC.

Diana Perea is a Bronx-based artist. A recent graduate of the City University of New York, she is a former participant in DreamYard’s after-school program, where she currently works as a teaching artist.

High-res press photos are available here.

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