History of Mural Making

Mural making has historically united cultural and political expression within the context of struggles for and celebrations of freedom. This is true internationally as exemplified by the social minded artists of the Work Progress Administration in the United States, pro-democracy activists in Haiti, anti-Pinochetistas in Chile and perhaps most famously by the Muralist Movement of post-revolutionary Mexico. Murals have been used to expound political and social messages, amplify grassroots voices, inspire others to reflect, contemplate and act, as well as to beautify, bring humanity to or simply leave a mark on a place in time. Mural making continues to exist in urban environments in the United States mostly in the form of spray paint "graffiti" art; however, the tradition of organized hand painted community mural projects pioneered in the United States in the 40's and resurrected briefly in the 60's, has almost died out.

Over the last fifteen years, non-profit agencies in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia have taken the lead in resurrecting and preserving the phenomenon of community murals. With no such group existing in New York City, we founded Groundswell Community Mural Project in 1996 to take the responsibility of organizing, developing and facilitating community murals in our city. We founded Groundswell based on the belief that there is something unique and powerful about the community mural making process which combines the sanctity of personal expression with the strength of community activism. Groundswell's programs are based on principles of individual, group and community development on a number of different levels including: spirituality, self-esteem, creativity, collaboration and community activism.

The name "Groundswell" came out of our first project in which we worked with low-income residents of city-owned properties who were organizing to convert their buildings into low-income cooperatives, which they would then manage themselves. Incredible accomplishments were occurring in these buildings that were indiscernible from the street. We thought it would be interesting to do a mural that brought the activities behind walls out onto walls. Thus, the name "groundswell" was chosen.