In Harlem’s Jacob Schiff Park, Four New Birds Join the Audubon Mural Project

Twenty-six youth apprentices painted the murals of climate-threatened birds on the walls of a local playground.

Audubon’s Mural Project just added four new birds to its climate-threatened-birds mural count, after 26 youth apprentices unveiled a collection of seven new murals in Jacob Schiff Park and Public School 192 in Upper Manhattan. With the approval of New York City Parks Department, and in collaboration with community-education nonprofit Creative Art Works and nearby art gallery Gitler&____, the apprentices drafted, sketched, and painted four birds that symbolize immigration and education, and the populations of which are also threatened by climate change.

Migration plays a major role in the project’s concept, with each of the four birds being migrants that spent at least part of their lives in the U.S. In the central mural, a Common Redpoll stands atop a nest filled with four children of differing backgrounds. According to the muralists, the Redpoll is protecting the children and handing one of them a pencil, which symbolizes knowledge. The other three birds, the White-faced Ibis, Bank Swallow, and Northern Shoveler, sit on the parapets adjacent to the playground, and are designed to connect aesthetically with the central piece. 

Jessie Novik, a 31-year-old muralist, teaching artist, and Creative Art Works instructor, worked closely with the apprentices in order to create what she describes as a piece that merges migratory birds with the student population in West Harlem, using patterns and motifs centered around bird imagery and migration. “Through several brainstorming sessions, through stakeholder research, through client interviews, we came up with a list of symbols, a list of themes, and the children chose from those,” Novik says.

The apprentices, just like professional artists involved with the project, have the freedom to decide what to incorporate, what colors to use, and how to symbolize their theme as long as it is not deemed offensive. After the initial design phase, they created reference pieces. Then, through process of elimination and democracy, reinterpreted them into the seven cohesive designs that they unveiled this earlier this month.

“We signed up to paint, but I’ve done more than painting,” says Tifanny Guzman, one of the summer youth apprentices. “We had to figure out the color, measure the walls. I’m really proud. We got a lot of stuff done together, and we learned a lot.”

This is not the only way that the apprentices and Creative Art Works explored the topic of birds and climate change. Because Creative Art Works prides itself in creating a diverse range of programs tailored for a wide range of artistic talents, including photography and videography, this year’s summer multimedia youth apprentices worked on a documentary describing Audubon’s mural project and John James Audubon’s background, while also incorporating the perspective of members inside of the community. The documentary shows the pride that both the youth apprentices and members of the community share when it comes to Harlem and the beautification of their community.

Avi Gitler, the Audubon Mural Project coordinator since its 2014 inception, and owner of Gitler&____ gallery, initiated this partnership to engage a younger demographic in community work, and introduce them to both art and conservation. “This is the first project that we’ve done where young people took the lead,” Gitler says. “Kids designed the mural and painted the mural, and it has so much depth. For me, every time I see that mural it will bring me great satisfaction because of how it was created.”