By Mark Hallum
Politicians and members of the northeast Queens community gathered for the unveiling of a mural spanning the length of a pedestrian tunnel at 88th Road and Cross Island Parkway.
Department of Transportation Queens Borough Commissioner Nicole Garcia, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), artist Joel Bergner, and students from St. Gregory the Great School were present to celebrate the beautification effort.
The mural, titled “Our Treasures Are Within,” was an effort that included students who use the tunnel on a regular basis in the production. The painting features imagery from the lives of both the students and the artist himself. On one end of the tunnel is a depiction of Bergner’s wife and in other sections phrases from the student’s lives can be read.
“We had workshops before any paint was put on the wall to decide on the theme, to decide on the imagery and they actually came up with everything that you see,” Bergner said.
“It was a safety hazard for the kids, the people going to church. So I got DOT to come out and said we have to do something here.” Avella said of the tunnel, which was formerly dirty and neglected with no interior lighting. “And then they came up with the idea for this art program, working with the students from the school to do this mural. You had to have seen what this looked like before.”
The DOT budget for the tunnel project was $25,000, while Bergner donated his time to the students and the labor that went into the mural.
Bergnerwas selected by the DOT Art Program because he was ranked highly in an open call, according to DOT art director Emily Colasacco.
“He was really excited because of the collaboration with the school, it fit really well because he’s an educator as well as an artist,” Colasacco said.
“This tunnel has transformed into something so much more than a conventional pedestrian underpass,” Nicole Garcia said, who added that DOT funding goes to support artists for projects across the city that incorporate art into department-owned structures.
“I would like to commend Senator Avella for having the vision to know that we should have some beauty in the public space. I definitely want to thank the DOT for having the money to put forth this initiative, and most importantly the students who had the vision to come up with something,” District Manager for Community Board 13 Mark McMillan said.
“I had an amazing experience working with the students of St. Gregory School in Queens over these last two weeks. Together, we came up with the themes and design of the artwork in workshops, and then painted a giant mural that explored the struggle between negative and positive influences in their community, as well as celebrating the importance of education and creativity. Thanks to everyone involved for making this an unforgettable project!” Bergner said.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall
or by phone at (718) 260–4564.