Artist and AWT contributor Morgan Everhart recently completed a flower mural off of Grand and Suffolk Streets in the Lower East Side that commemorates the community’s perseverance through the pandemic. The communal artwork directly supports the Lower Eastside Girls Club and The Clemente Cultural & Educational Center. We connected with Everhart to ask her about the mural’s intentions, process, and fundraising goals.
What is your connection to these non-profit arts organizations? Why help them?
Morgan Everhart: A few months into the pandemic, I was invited to submit a proposal for Seward Park Co-op’s wall, which would also participate in Neumeraki’s international exhibition of public facing artworks titled, Art Off-Screen. At that time, the world was figuring out what COVID-19 was; people were dying, losing their jobs, and losing their minds. Unfortunately, this pandemic also escalated violence against Black people and Asian people on a horrific scale. At this point, it was essential for me to establish a daily commitment to providing my consideration, time, and resources to communities that deserve to be heard.
Our current events have taught many that compassion dampens our fear and builds resilience. Whether or not we’re in a crisis, we need to heal, spread joy, and understand each other’s experiences. I hope that this flower mural can brighten people’s days and provide more residents in the Lower East Side an opportunity to empower the essential programming The Clemente and Lower Eastside Girls Club provides.
In 2015, I received a grant to take myself and a group of other graduate students from The Maryland Institute College of Art to the TransCultural Exchange (TCE) in Boston. There I met a now-former gallery director at The Clemente Cultural & Educational Center, Jan Hanvik. Jan generously offered a tour of The Clemente and gave some great advice about engaging with the NYC arts community. Since then, I knew the Clemente Center was a welcoming place for artists to meet and grow. Even though I am not a part of the Latinx community they focus on, they were excited to collaborate and receive support. I’ve seen firsthand the scope of The Clemente’s programming, and now that this flower mural is their new neighbor, I can help other people in the LES engage with them.
My dear friend Solonje Burnett is a humanist, entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, and part of the Resistance Revival Chorus. Through her participation in this collective of women and non-binary singers that explore activism and music, she introduced me to Ebonie Simpson, the Co-Executive Director of The Lower Eastside Girls Club. Simpson’s organization is one of the most inspiring, joyful educational facilities I’ve ever seen or heard of. The Lower Eastside Girls Club manages to go above and beyond in providing opportunities for the young women and families in NYC who need it the most through free, innovative year-round programs in STEM, Arts, Digital Media and Sound, Wellness, Civic Engagement, and Leadership.
What’s the difference between making art on canvas as opposed to art in public spaces?
Everhart: Context provides an entirely new understanding of an artwork. Think of the legendary example of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. Once Duchamp took this urinal, turned it on its side, and placed it into an exhibition, it became art.
I believe the act of making anything is political, but there’s no way to ignore the politics behind creating art in public spaces. Neighboring residents, business owners, board directors, government officials, and the press all have something to say about public art since it’s in a shared space. Because of this, I believe public art should acknowledge its surroundings and support its community.
Art smaller in scale that can be installed in more intimate spaces allows for more experimentation and personal narratives. When you’re making a work on canvas, you have more control over who gets to see it.
What’s the difference in the materials you’ve used? What are the challenges of painting a mural from a material standpoint?
Everhart: If you’re new to making murals, like myself, you may have to double the amount of time you think it’ll take to produce the work. Location, weather, scale, and its surface played significant roles in how this mural was made. For archival purposes, acrylic paints should be applied in temperatures above 60 degrees, so we had aimed for production in spring/summer. Unfortunately, while I painted the flower mural, it happened to be over 100 degrees for most of the days with intermittent rain, so the humidity also changed the dry times of each paint layer. The mural was about 40 feet long and 15 feet high, so half of the work was executed on a scissor lift. In addition to using a scissor lift, I strapped several paintbrushes to extension poles and used a paint sprayer for gradients.
I wish I could turn a 40-foot brick wall on its side and pour washes of color on it! I’m used to laying the groundwork of a painting while the surface is horizontal. Because of this and the wall being brick, I had to alter the thickness of all of my paint to avoid drippage. I also had to push the paint into all of the mortar, which significantly changed my gestures.
Can you tell us a bit about the specifics of the motif? The Bowery Boogie called it a “bouquet of life,” which resonated strongly with me, knowing the community and being local to the area myself.
Everhart: With our sense of time changing, without knowing the end of this pandemic, and without the ability to travel, I wanted to give some comfort to the Lower East Side through florals. Flowers have been the most generative way for me to share vulnerabilities and reflections on life, love, and history. They’re the most abstract and symbolic things in reality. Because they are almost everywhere, people live with them and accept them in commemoration for most occasions.
With this mural, “Getting There,” the first layers depict a landscape through the frame of driving. The landscape, which is seen through the dashboard of a car, transitions from night into day. Mirroring that transition, an abstracted floral configuration moves from a darker, semi fluorescent color scheme into a lighter, pastel arrangement. Over the floral arrangements, a body-scaled silver structure vertically divides the night side of the mural, while an eye-level lime green structure divides the day’s horizon line on the right. Running along the top of the entire flower mural is a subtle orange and pink gradient, similar to the colors you’ll see at dawn and dusk.
Each significant reference in the mural is painted at different scales, so that people may recognize them from different distances. For example, the transition from night into day may be the first thing someone notices from one or two blocks away. Alternatively, someone who is only a few feet away from the mural may focus on the interactions of color in the floral arrangements. Someone parking their car on the street may notice the relationship of the silver and lime green structures to the scale of the people walking by the flower mural.
What feedback did you get so far from the local community and your personal art community?
Everhart: I’ve received an overwhelming amount of gratitude and encouragement from residents and art colleagues during and after Getting There’s production. A few locals told me that the mural brightened up their lives, bringing me incomprehensible bliss. Everyone wants more public arts and engagement!
Can you share a short story about an interesting connection you made during the painting process?
Everhart: I met one of the most caring, patient, and consistent individuals ever, Barrington “Barry” Shackleford. Barry is a part of the maintenance crew at Seward Park, and he was asked to oversee my use of the scissor lift during the mural’s production. Barry went above and beyond in helping me set up, paint, and break down every day for ten days. He was encouraging, inquisitive, and hilarious. I’ve met very few people who work as heartily as he does. I think part of the reason why there’s so much joy and life in the flower mural is because of him.
Making this mural has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life to date, and I’ve been so fortunate to have so many loved ones, and colleagues help me through it. Having Barry as one of the first people I’ve made friends with through the experience shows me that there are some incredible, transformative people in the Lower East Side that I cannot wait to meet.
How can people support your flower mural’s cause?
Everhart: The Lower Eastside Girls Club and The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center are two local non-profit organizations central to the Lower East Side community that need our support. With your donation to Getting There’s GoFundMe, thousands of community residents will receive access to free education, free healthcare and wellbeing, and accessible arts programming. The sooner we have the funds for these essential epicenters of inspiration, creativity, education, and wellbeing, the sooner their programming can happen!
The Lower Eastside Girls Club provides free, year-round, innovative youth programming. In January 2022, they will open the Center for Wellbeing and Happiness for intergenerational and holistic wellness programming for all community members at no cost. The Center for Wellbeing and Happiness (CWBH) strategically addresses wellbeing and health disparities in the Lower East Side by utilizing intentional, trauma-informed, holistic programming rooted in community-centered resilience, prevention, recovery, and self-reliance. The CWBH will serve as a wellness hub providing the space and opportunity for local organizations, expert practitioners, health-based city agencies and institutions, and their talented and resource-filled community members to connect, collaborate and serve. Donations from this flower mural project will underwrite workshops for community members at the Lower Eastside Girls Club’s Center for Wellbeing & Happiness (CWBH).
The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center Inc is a Puerto Rican/Latinx multi-arts cultural institution rooted in NYC’s Lower East Side/Loisaida. The Clemente operates polyphonically to provide affordable space and venues to artists, small arts organizations, emergent and independent community producers that reflect the cultural diversity of the LES and our city. The Clemente seeks donations to raise critical funds to sustain itself as an affordable performing arts hub and support BIPOC artists.
Proceeds will be split between The Lower Eastside Girls Club’s Center for Wellbeing & Happiness and The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center’s International Puppet Fringe. All contributions are tax-deductible, and any donation is greatly appreciated.
Thank you to YCG Fine Art for funding the production of this mural. Thank you to Home Depot, Blick Art Materials, and Target for funding the mural’s art supplies. Thank you to Lauren Damaskinos for photography of this mural.