Just steps away from the Coney Island Boardwalk and the Parachute Jump, the residents of Unity Towers at 2007 Surf Avenue were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy’s floodwaters, with electricity knocked out and many residents temporarily stranded on upper floors.
Today, a year later, residents have mostly gotten back on their feet, but they also still struggle with mold and the general sadness about “seeing things deteriorate.”
But their spirits are now being lifted thanks to an ongoing mural art project on the building’s front façade that is bringing scenes of Coney Island past, present, and future together.
The project began on October 26 as a crew of volunteers—adults and children—from Brooklyn Community Services (BCS), Brooklyn Forefront Church, Brooklyn Amity School, and the Unity Towers Residents Association descended on the building armed with painting supplies and unceasing enthusiasm.
“We are celebrating how resilient and strong Coney Island has been while also educating people on future preparedness for disasters,” said Lisa Jones, BCS’s director for Coney Island projects.
Four murals are going up on the walls: one Children’s Mural and three murals designed by local artists to represent the themes of peace, resilience, and community. The chosen artists were Maxim Kornev from Coney Island, Tessa Williams-Tirado from Parkside, and Sylvia Apostol from New Jersey.
Kornev, whose parent’s car washed away in the storm and whose grandmother was stuck on the 14th floor of her apartment building until the family could get to her, said that he “picked ‘Community’ because I’ve been here since I was five years old [and] thought this was a good opportunity to make a lasting work. Coney Island people have a unique identity.”
His mural combines the Wonder Wheel, Mermaid Parade, flying seagulls, and summer fireworks.
Williams-Tirado’s “Peace” scene of children holding hands on the beach, staring at the Coney Island skyline, draws on the idea that “this world has a lot of violence, crime, and hate, and kids tend to come together, uniting, because they don’t care about the color of your skin. Coney Island is an escape from your problems and a place to have fun.”
Apostol’s “Resilience” scene is canvas of sea blue, full of “quirky” rabbits holding umbrellas.
The project is part of BCS’ ongoing long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts in Coney Island, which began in the days after the neighborhood was hit by Sandy. Funding for the murals were provided via a grant from Citizens Community of NYC, and preparedness kit supplies were purchased with Robin Hood Foundation support.
Regarding preparedness, 10-year-old Quianna joined her friends in calling on people to take a pledge to “promise to be prepared to help my community” in order to get a packet—each one stuffed with a composition notebook and pen for storing emergency contact information, a portable flashlight, hand sanitizer, a face mask, and informational brochures.
“Volunteering is super fun and an opportunity to know what it’s like to help people,” explained Quianna, before later joining the painting brigade at the wall.
Resident Wilma Marrero sat in her wheelchair watching the kids laugh, greet passersby, and paint each other’s latex-gloved hands in order to make handprints on the wall. The project, she said, is welcome especially because “when [children] do things themselves, it teaches them how to treasure where they live.”