By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Forget Bansky! He's old news.
Councilman Vincent Gentile convinced dozens of people to spend Sunday afternoon painting a wall in a public park in Bay Ridge. But unlike Bansky, the famous British graffiti artist who spent the month of October "decorating" dozens of public spaces in New York City in the dead of night, Gentile and his helpers weren’t hiding while they were working.
The councilman and his volunteers, including several elementary school students, were using paint and brushes to pay tribute to military veterans.
The action took place at the Fort Hamilton High School Athletic Field, which doubles as a high school facility and a public park. The park is located behind the high school on 85th Street and Colonial Road. Working with Groundswell, a non-profit organization that seeks to bring together artists, young people and community groups all over the city to create art as a tool for social change, Gentile commissioned a mural to pay tribute to military veterans.
The goal of the mural is to raise awareness of the sacrifices made by veterans and to acknowledge the Bay Ridge community’s close ties to the US Army Garrison at Fort Hamilton, located on the waterfront at 101st Street, Gentile said.
Artist Esteban del Valle from Groundswell created the mural after meeting with veterans involved with the army base and with veterans from local veterans’ organizations, including American Legion-Amity Post 791, Vietnam Veterans Chapter 72 and the United Military Veterans of Kings County.
The mural contains many striking images, including soldiers carrying a wounded buddy off a battlefield, an aged veteran, a soldier saluting and a giant American flag, all set against a blue sky.
The artist drew an outline on the wall and then directed the volunteers on where to paint and what colors to use. A few volunteers climbed ladders to paint the top portion of the wall, while below others painted the ground level spots.
“I love the idea of using art as a tool to inspire awareness, conversation and social change,” Gentile said. “It is so very important that we remember our veterans – to honor their sacrifice and keep our promise by giving them the recognition they deserve. Not only will this mural beautify our neighborhood, it will bring our community together in order to recognize and honor our veterans, past, present and future,” he said.
The volunteers who spent the afternoon bringing del Valle’s vision to life included Preston Ferraiuolo, a fourth grader at PS 229, and his mom, Liz Amato. “It looks like it’s starting to come together nicely,” Amato told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
The idea for the mural project stretches back to the end of 2011, when President Barack Obama withdrew most of the US troops from Iraq, Gentile said. New York officials expressed a desire to hold a ticker-tape parade for the returning military personnel, but the US Department of Defense advised against it. Pentagon officials argued that it was too soon for celebration as American soldiers are still fighting in Afghanistan. In January of 2012, Fox News reported that Mayor Bloomberg had officially announced that there would be no parade.
But the military brass also encouraged communities to honor veterans in other ways.
The Bay Ridge mural location, at the Fort Hamilton Athletic Field, was chosen specifically because it was named in honor of the local army base, Gentile said.
Groundswell received funding for this project in the city budget that was passed in June.