The Asian American Federation (AAF) unveiled a new colorful mural in downtown Flushing on Wednesday, Oct. 7, that will serve as a reminder and celebration of the Asian American community’s important contributions to New York City.
The mural, Harmonious Differences, was created by visual Korean artist Seongmin Ahn, who used acrylic exterior paint and spray paint on the brick wall of a building located at 39-02 Union St. The mural is the second in a series of public art projects by AAF’s small business program created to beautify Union Street and enhance the shopping experience for customers.
The project is supported in part by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).
Small business owners on Union Street have seen a dramatic decrease in foot traffic and customers since early January when misconceptions about the pandemic field anti-Asian sentiment, according to Ahyoung Kim, associate director of Small Business Programs, AAF.
“Their pleas for help have not been answered; small businesses in this area had the lowest approval rate for the Paycheck Protection Program,” Kim said. “AAF will continue to advocate for the needs of our small business owners’ and ensure that they are met with culturally relevant assistance and language access.”
Union Street is home to diverse immigrant communities and businesses and the mural is a tribute to their rich contributions that have influenced the vibrant culture of the area. The array of flowers represent the people from different ethnic backgrounds and traditions who arrived in Flushing from different parts of Asia and then blended together into a bouquet to grow as a highly productive community, Ahn said in a statement.
“The visual represents the invigorating force of the community that comes together as one to nurture our great city to prosperity and a bright future,” said Ahn, who is an immigrant and received her B.F.A and M.F.A in Asian traditional painting from Seoul National University in Korea.
When Jentai Tsai, the owner of the building on Union Street, moved to Flushing 50 years ago, she described it as a “ghost town” filled with vacant stores.
Tsai was the first Asian-American to open an oriental supermarket called Daido on Main Street.
“Thanks to Asian immigrant efforts, Flushing has become a booming community,” Tsai said. “Even though this wall could be rented for commercial advertising, I wanted to help beautify the community with some artwork, like this mural. My wish is to continue to make Flushing a cleaner and safer place for the people to live and to do business.”
Local elected officials including Councilman Peter Koo and Senator Toby Stavisky expressed gratitude to AAF and the EDC for installing another mural on Union Street.
Stavisky said she hopes the mural serves as a “reinvigorating symbol of hope and a bright future ahead,” as the neighborhoods and small businesses work to rebuild in the wake of COVID-19.
“Seongmin Ahn did a magnificent job capturing the beautiful, rich cultural diversity that makes our community one of a kind. The mural depicts individual flowers, and when they become part of a beautiful bouquet, the flowers blend together to become one, similar to our community,” Stavisky said.
According to Koo, public art is a great way to enhance and beautify communities, such as Flushing.
“Union Street is known for its vibrant diversity of mom-and-pop stores and restaurants, and it’s only natural that the facades of this strip begin to reflect the unique character, color, and beauty of what you can see once you venture inside,” Koo said. “It is something that infers to passers-by that they are in a community of new and exciting ideas.”
Ikhwan Rim, president of the Union Street Small Business Association, said although this is a difficult time for everyone, in body and mind, he hopes the new mural “gives hope and courage to small business owners and those who visit Union Street.”