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Endangered mural in NYC could be restored

Specialists say it would cost at least $70,000 to preserve Arnold Belkin’s 1972 mural “Against Domestic Colonialism,’’ which adorns a playground wall in New York City. Specialists say it would cost at least $70,000 to preserve Arnold Belkin’s 1972 mural “Against Domestic Colonialism,’’ which adorns a playground wall in New York City. (Kathy Willens/Associated Press)
Associated Press / September 19, 2011

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NEW YORK - The mural on the side of the building is no longer so vibrant. Its oranges, rust-reds and heavenly blues have dimmed and splotches of dead gray stucco show through where images have been rubbed out, as if someone took an enormous eraser to the wall.

Finished in 1972 by renowned artist Arnold Belkin, the mural created at a Manhattan playground in his trademark Mexican-influenced style has been deteriorating slowly over the decades. There has been little impetus to preserve it until now.

Residents are clamoring to have what may be the artist’s only outdoor US work restored.

At their request, Heritage Preservation, a Washington-based national organization devoted to preserving the country’s cultural artifacts, organized a team last week to assess whether the 50- by 60-foot work, titled “Against Domestic Colonialism,’’ can be repaired.

The prognosis for the mural was good, said Kristen Laise of Heritage Preservation, but it could cost at least $70,000. The money would have to be raised from public and private donors.

It would not be the first time the organization has restored a mural in New York City: In 2009, it completed repairs to Eva Cockroft’s 1986 work “Homage to Seurat: La Grande Jatte in Harlem’’ with money from a preservation foundation.

Heritage Preservation lists about a dozen equally noteworthy community murals around the country that it considers “highly endangered’’ because of development, deterioration, and neglect. Among them are the 1972 “Under City Stone,’’ one of the first community murals painted by a woman, Caryl Yasko, on Chicago’s South Side; and “Songs of Unity,’’ a 1978 mural created by a group of artists in Berkeley, Calif.

But no one knows how many public murals are in danger of disappearing because no national survey exists of the current state of the country’s public murals, Laise said.

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