Schenectady mural project signifies ‘a change in our collective focus’

The Craig Street bridge in Schenectady is a hub for youth crossing from the city’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood into Mont Pleasant to attend school. 

This makes it a perfect place to celebrate community, and on the last day of August several hundred people gathered on the bridge that spans Interstate 890 to celebrate a new art installation, the Common Unity Banners Project. 

“The purpose of this project was to empower the community to take a look at where they have come from and see where they can go,” said William Rivas, the Schenectady community leader who spearheaded the project and hosted the block party on the bridge. “It was an idea out of the norm that even I questioned at some point if it was possible.” 

The installation consists of seven eye-catching banners created by local artists. 

These banners hang from the bridge, showcasing the artists’ unique interpretation of Schenectady. 

Each one is filled with colors, and encourages community and youth empowerment. Children and youth are able to see images that reflect them, and promote the furthering of their education. The banners also encourage children to take part in the arts, by highlighting the work of artists from their own community. 

“This project will impact the community through its artist expression and creativity,” Rivas said. “The artwork created comes directly from the heart of Hamilton Hill and Mont Pleasant. It comes from those most affected by poverty and social oppression.” 

Rae Frasier is one of the artists that blessed the project.

She created a colorful banner that is split between words of encouragement on the top and features prominent black and brown cultural icons including Huey and Riley Freeman of the hit animated series The Boondocks. 

The banner is a perfect representation of common unity, showing youth words they can connect to as well as faces they can relate to. 

“I feel that art has been like an underdog in comparison to other subjects,” Frasier said. “So it’s always a beautiful thing when artists collaborate with organizations for the youth to expose our superpowers.” 

Another artist featured in this project is Elona Mitchell-Strong. Her banner stands strong next to Frasier’s. It has a sunset background with several children looking into what looks like a blue sky – almost as if they are looking into the distance and imagining the possibilities for their future. 

Mitchell-Strong said that she asked several school-age children what they would like to see in a banner and their ideas inspired the beautiful work of art displayed on the bridge.

“Honestly, it wasn’t really about me with this project,” she said. “It was like, ‘how can I help the youth find those same things that I didn’t have when I was younger?’” 

The Community Banners Project is one of nine community-based projects funded through The Schenectady Foundation’s Thriving Neighborhoods Challenge, which invites residents and organizations to apply for funding for small-scale projects to enrich and beautify the city’s neighborhoods. 

For Schenectady residents, the Community Banners Project is a great reminder of the brilliance that is bred in the city of Schenectady. 

Rivas said his goal was to craft a project that celebrates and respects the people who live in the community. 

“This project signifies a change in our collective focus,” Rivas said. “We have identified what the community wants and needs – to be heard and not just invited to sit at the table in silence.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The author of this piece performed a poem, titled “The Code of Common Unity,” at the event highlighted in the article.

© Albany Proper, Inc.

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