Astoria residents walking by the underpass on 25th Avenue and 48th Street will soon see a drastic difference from the graffiti-heavy blue wall.
501 (See)(Streets), an organization that beautifies walls across New York City, is in the process of transforming an old Astoria wall into a bustling scene depicting iconic landmarks like the Hell Gate Bridge, Air Line Diner and residents dressed in old-school garb.
The organization was founded by Noah Sheroff in July 2014 after he graduated from New York University with a master’s degree in public administration. Sheroff, who grew up in Bellerose, wanted to start his own organization and after seeing the work of several street art collectives like 5Pointz and The Bushwick Collective, he was inspired to bring this art to neighborhoods across the city.
“It tends to be beneficial to residents, businesses, and generally an effective graffiti deterrent,” Sheroff said. “People have tendencies to think that artwork belongs in certain communities. That’s why were trying to go through the communities to show that whether it’s Bellerose or Rosedale or Astoria or Woodside or Middle Village to Whitestone, it can fit anywhere.”
Sheroff has worked with accomplished artists to bring murals to neighborhoods like Flatbush, Brooklyn, Fordham, Bronx and recently completed a mural at the 110th Precinct in Elmhurst. Though Sheroff does not do any of the artwork, he has a rotating list of artists who specialize in portraits, landscapes and more.
He also works with specific community groups to brainstorm ideas for each mural. Councilman Costa Constantinides worked with Sheroff to make the mural a reality and visited the site to check on its progress.
“It was great seeing 501 (See)(Streets) beautifying our neighborhood,” Constantinides said. “This mural will leave a long-lasting and colorful piece of art in a residential area.”
Artist, illustrator and painter Kenji Takabayashi is the artist behind the Astoria mural. Takabayashi, who grew up in Ozone Park, graduated from the High School of Art and Design and began to do grafitti on subways and buildings around the city as a teenager. His work got him noticed by Time Inc., where he became a photographer and began displaying his artwork in galleries. An art director for Major League Baseball for 28 years, Takabayshi quit last year to do graffiti full time.
Sheroff said he wants to expand his organization’s work to include more neighborhoods in Queens and eventually the tri-state area. The name behind the nonprofit, in addition to being a play on the term 501(c)(3), is meant to inspire civic engagement.
“The goal is to eventually get people to pay attention to what’s going on in their community, especially locally,” Sheroff said. “I think this [art] is something that is unfortunately undervalued but it’s really, really beneficial to the community.”
The mural will be completed on Oct. 20.