Mural Brightens Homeless Shelter
After an intense workshop with over 125 residents of LIFE Family Shelter, a large-scale mural, titled “A Fruitful Life,” now graces the shelter’s cafeteria. The imagery and words are based on the residents’ thoughts and was produced by Alfalfa Studio, a branding and graphic design firm in New York City, which brought together its staff and ten artists to, as its principals say, “turn bleak into beautiful.” I asked Alfalfa’s partners Rafael Esquer and Gabriela Mirensky to discuss how the mural came to be and currently is. Here are their responses.
What prompted you to donate this massive mural?
Mirensky: One of the main objectives of the mural was to bring a happy respite, a bit of brightness to an otherwise depressing environment and to create a learning tool. This was particularly important because the resident families of the shelter are in a very tough situation, living in beyond-sad conditions for too long a period of time.
What inspired the imagery, which is both fanciful and didactic?
Mirensky: The mural, inspired by the residents’ answers collected in a workshop held at the shelter on July 4, 2012, comprises illustrations of fruits and vegetables grouped by the month when they are in season in New York, as well as quotes from renowned personalities ranging from Ovid to Stevie Wonder. The project is a collaboration between See ChangeNYC, an initiative of the Mayor’s Office and the New York City Department of Design and Construction. See ChangeNYC executive director, Lonni Tanner, approached Rafael for this project.
When did the project begin?
Esquer: It kicked off last June. The design team spent the July 4th holiday with the shelter residents—adults and children—encouraging them to express themselves with the help of games and questions structured in a hands-on workshop held at the Catherine Street shelter’s cafeteria. While many of the residents were at first reluctant to participate, many families joined the activities that would inspire ‘their’ mural. Sandra, 6, has spent too long of her budding life at the shelter. “I love all the colors,” she said. “They make me feel happy; now I want to paint.” LIFE Family Shelter executive director Alexis Molina commented on the need to provide nourishment for residents’ souls as well as their bodies; Rafael and his team helped to nourish that part.
How long did the project take, all told?
Esquer: Alfalfa donated around 500 hours to the project. Throughout my professional career as a designer, projects like this have given me the greatest personal satisfaction. To create something that enriches the lives of people in need, like this mural, reminds me that design, beyond its commercial uses, can also bring inspiration, hope and change.
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