Award-winning artist creates signature black and white mural at Rockaway Beach playground

Shantell Martin sketching mural outline
Photo by Jorge Marrón

Shantell Martin, a London-based artist, transformed the outdoor Seaside Playground in Rockaway Beach with her dynamic, black-and-white drawings.

Martin debuted the hand-painted 16,000 square feet mural in the “Big Yard” at Waterside Children’s Studio School located on the corner of Rockaway Beach Boulevard and B109 Street in Rockaway Park on Oct. 12, as part of an effort to revitalize and beautify the neighborhood.

The abstract mural with text and images will be visible to passersby, guests atop the new The Rockaway Hotel and NYC travelers coming by air.

Martin’s work is characterized by by larger-than-life drawings, which often explore identity as a critical pathway to self-expression and ask, “who are you?”

“My hope was to create something bold, to create something that encouraged and amplified ‘PLAY’ and something that would lead to discovery,” said Martin. “I love that right when you enter the playground there are the words, ‘YES, YOU ARE YOU.’ It’s affirmative, unapologetic, big, bold, and positive. Especially for children as they navigate who they are becoming.”

Photo by Jorge Marrón
Photo by Jorge Marrón

The mural’s design recalls her recent work at Governor’s Island, the Oculus, and Lincoln Center’s promenade in collaboration with the New York City Ballet.

Photo by Jorge Marrón
Photo by Jorge Marrón

As part of the program, Martin led a socially distant virtual workshop to engage students, community members and local artists invested in the community’s beautification.

Photo by Jorge Marrón
Photo by Jorge Marrón

Martin’s process involves talking with community members of which the project is being made for, but this year’s COVID-19 pandemic presented some difficulties.

“This time around was quite difficult, as the pandemic hit just as we were getting into it, but we really did our best,” she said. “Luckily for me, Michi and her partners at The Rockaway Hotel, and Laura Frank and Carolina Cisneros, Co-Chairs of the Friends of Seaside Playground (FOSP), already have deep roots in the area. But in general, I want the community to know me and my work and I want the community to feel included in the process of the work.”

Photo by Jorge Marrón

Michi Jigarjian, partner and chief social impact officer of The Rockaway Hotel, and Martin have known each other for several years — so when the time came to work together, it felt like a great fit.

“Art can be the connective tissue of a community, and we are so honored to work with Shantell Marin to bring her iconic vision of unity to the Rockaway peninsula,” said Jigarjian. “Facilitating public art initiatives for social change is paramount to the hotel’s social impact goals.”

Georgia Harrell 7G, Michi Jigarjian, Shantell Martin, Laura Frank and Carolina Cisneros FOSP. (Photo by Jorge Marrón)

Her design is meant to represent the vibrancy of the Rockaway community, which Jigarjian said stands out for being one of New York’s most vulnerable yet most resilient community.

Martin’s proposal was the unanimous winner of an open call for submissions led by Friends of Seaside Playground (FOSP). The mural is the first part of FOSP’s long-term vision to revitalize the playground for the community.

“Through the wonder, movement, and layers of details embedded in her canvases, Shantell Martin’s work naturally engages the collective imagination and brings people together,” said Frank and Cisneros in a joint statement.

The submission was in partnership with and sponsored by The Rockaway Hotel, with the “Big Yard” mural made possible by the hotel, 7|G Foundation and Citizens Committee of New York City.