Courtesy of Lewis Latimer House
Cecile Chong’s “El Dorado- The New Forty-Niners” is on view at the Latimer House.
By Julia Moro

With warm weather approaching, it is the perfect time to visit local parks. Further adding to the fun is the city Parks Department’s public art program, Art in the Parks, which announced new outdoor exhibitions at Forest Park, Lewis H. Latimer House and MacDonald Park.

Amanda Long and Tommy Hartung’s work, “Rainbow Mural,” is on display at the Greenhouse Playground off the Woodhaven Boulevard entrance to Forest Park. This piece runs along about 800 feet of retaining wall located across the playground and skate park near the historic carousel.

“The public interacting with my work has always been a central focus. Often the work is less about my intent and more about the public feeling,” Long said.

It was important to the two artists to make a collaborative piece with the community to show that art can be a social gathering. The making of this mural was, in part, the artists’ work; but it was also painted by local volunteers and children who enjoy the park.

The work the two artists and the community have done shows a painted, pixelated rainbow pattern. A portion of the mural is in colorful chalkboard paint so children in the park can continue to add to it.

“El Dorado – The New Forty-Niners” can be seen at the Lewis H. Latimer House on 34-41 137th St. in Flushing. Cecile Chong, the artist behind this work, drew her inspiration from El Dorado among other things. Chong recalls learning of the historic occurrence, when Spanish explorers came to Latin America, at school in Ecuador where she was raised. Chong combined her fascination with El Dorado with her respect for immigrants in the country and made 100 individual sculptures.

“With the current political climate, I really wanted to honor immigrants,” said Chong.

She was moved when she read that 49 percent of U.S households speak a language other than English. “I put that information together with El Dorado, and thought well what if El Dorado was discovered in New York City in the form of a modern contemporary archaeological site depicting 100 sculptures, and 49 of them are painted gold depicting the 49 percent of second language speakers.”

The 100 sculptures, 49 of which are gold, are modeled after tightly swaddled babies, or “guaguas,” that Chong saw while living in Ecuador.

Yvonne Shortt and Mayuko Fujino contributed the sculpture “Functional Bodies” to MacDonald Park at 87-20 Queens Blvd. in Forest Hills. Shortt, a social sculpture artist, said “the Functional Bodies piece was inspired by the concept that all beings have some aspect of them that allows them to help out in their community.”

Steven Melnik, the founder of Friends of MacDonald Park, has a hard time trying to find volunteers to help maintain the local park. Shortt’s and Fujino’s work tries to show how individuals can give back.

The sculpture depicts a dog and a girl. The girl’s arms are made so water can come out of them, showing “how we as humans have arms that can be used for gathering different tools to water the spaces in our community,” as Shortt put it.

Jennifer Lantzas, deputy director of public art at New York City Parks, said that “all [the artists] are heavily rooted in community.”

Lantzas mentioned that it’s not just park beautification that her department is trying to achieve. A sense of community and togetherness have a profound meaning and intention behind all of these works.

“Of course, it’s parks beautification, but on a deeper level, we’re hoping that it is making people think about the usage of their public space differently. We’re hoping that it is intellectually and socially stimulating and creating conversations, even between strangers,” said Lantzas.

Reach reporter Julia Moro by e-mail at jmoro@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4574.

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