“This project worked like magic, because I had no money!” Michela Muserra , the founder and curator of Bed-Stuy Walls Mural Festival, exclaimed . This community-based art project that has been a year in the making. Muserra, who goes by the nickname Miki Mu, is an Italian-born illustrator and muralist who moved to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant in 2008. “I had a vision to fill up a wall with murals and beautiful art,” she said. “I just couldn’t find the right place to do it.”
One day, Miki was invited to visit her neighbor’s art studio at Chateau Brooklyn when she spotted the 300-foot-long stretch of exterior wall on Lexington Avenue, the same block where the studio is located. Miki immediately envisioned a blank canvas, where artists like herself would paint murals, not only to beautify the block, but also to focus on diversity and inclusion for local residents. The block Miki chose abuts Stuyvesant Avenue, renamed “Do The Right Thing Way” where Spike Lee hosts annual block parties.
While the concept for Bed Stuy Walls was born in 2021, Miki only got the permit for the block party and the permit for the landlord to paint the walls three weeks prior to the event. To complete her vision, she turned the mural project into a community block party with fun-filled activities for the whole family, including roller skating lessons, Double Dutch and breakdancing. For Miki, this project has been a labor of love, the majority of which was funded out her own pocket. “For the past year we tried to get funding, and even started a GoFundMe campaign, but it wasn’t enough to cover the costs of paint and pay for the artists,” she said.
Miki showed a Powerpoint presentation to council members in March, but was told she missed the funding cycle for this year. Miki spent her entire savings account to get the project off the ground because she believed it would improve her community. Miki emphasized, “I want to give a huge shout out to the artists who donated their time and labor, because they normally would make thousands of dollars for their work, but they volunteered knowing it would add value to the neighborhood.”
“I want to give a huge shout out to the artists who donated their time and labor, because they normally would make thousands of dollars for their work, but they volunteered knowing it would add value to the neighborhood.”
On the day of the festival, Chateau Brooklyn, a production and fabrication shop located on the block became known as the “mothership” for the festival. A number of local vendors also got involved; Loop Colors USA donated 44 cans of paint, while Bolt Stickers, located in Bed-Stuy, provided t shirts, stickers and tote bags to give to the community. The Blue Bus Project, a non-profit which adapted a school bus to bring art to public spaces, provided a mini mural for kids to paint. Solidarity Movers, a moving company with a history of community activism, was invited to participate in the project after volunteering to transport art materials. Zak Solomon Miller, CEO of Solidarity Movers, even invited his own employee, artist One Mic, to lead a bin-painting activity for kids during the event. “Six of our moving trucks feature murals by local artists,” Miller said. “So, we’re essentially creating a mobile gallery that drives positive images throughout the city.”
For their contribution to the Bed Stuy Walls, muralist Ingrid Yuzly Mathurin, a Haitian-American visual artist whose work focuses on the strength of black women and men, teamed up with artist Fabian Williamsfor a mural dedicated to Spike Lee. “I wanted to represent someone who supports the Bed-Stuy neighborhood, in particular black culture” said Mathurin. Williams, who goes by Occasional Superstar, traveled to New York from Atlanta for this project. “I walked around Bed-Stuy to feel the vibe and energy of the people of Brooklyn for inspiration,” he said.
“I think it’s important to choose a subject that has a deeper meaning for people who live in the area to connect with.” He settled on the film Mo Better Blues, not only because of Spike Lee’s connection to Bed Stuy , but also because of the film’s storyline of an artist faced with a difficult life-changing decision. Occasional Superstar believes black men from the local community will resonate with the underlying theme of attempting to escape from self-destructive behavior and internal struggle from Lee’s film.
“I think it’s important to choose a subject that has a deeper meaning for people who live in the area to connect with.”
While the Bed-Stuy Walls are beautifully painted with an array of bright, vivid colors, many of the murals have deep meaning both to the artists who painted them and the surrounding community. Muralist Manuel Alejandro teamed up with artist No Cap to pay homage to the late Michael K. Williams, who was a “prolific actor and Brooklyn native, whose passing last year impacted many in the arts.”Allison Ruiz, who goes by Call Her Al, chose to paint a memorial for a close friend, Fiona Lee. While painting, Al mused: “I feel like Fiona is with me here today. Every time I try to use spray paint the wind blows in my face. She had an amazing sense of humor.” Artist BC painted a mural of flowers to honor his late brother who passed during the pandemic. Ex Vandals Crew member, Fred “Ree” Vilomar, aka Mad Transit Artists (MTA), incorporated a pink ribbon for Breast Cancer Awareness month into his mural. Ree, who was followed by a documentary film crew during the festival, began incorporating the pink ribbon into his work when his sister was diagnosed with cancer. She later passed in 2010. Miki Mu, herself a breast cancer survivor, believes the mural will spark a conversation that could save lives. Miki emphasized that “breast cancer is a taboo topic, but we need to talk about it more.”
Many of the murals touched on themes of diversity, inclusion and social justice. Andre Trenier, known for his murals of Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson and Sean Price, teamed up with Black Men Build NYC, a group of community organizers, artists, and creatives dedicated to healing and building communities. Trenier, said “I wanted to focus my mural on a cultural figure with historical significance.” He painted a mural dedicated to George Jackson, an author who became known for his revolutionary activity while incarcerated, including the founding of Black Guerilla Family. Meals were provided on-site by Black Chef Movement, a nonprofit dedicated to providing support to Black and brown communities, including those who experience food insecurity.
Co-curator Frankie Velez described the Bed-Stuy Walls as a “grassroots community-based project for the local residents, and especially kids.” Velez continued: “Miki’s art and public murals often resonate with kids because she paints cartoon-like characters.” Velez, who has 15 years of experience curating art shows, including at Clinton Hill’s Underhill Walls, expressed that it was important to choose artists who can collaborate on common themes connected to the Bed-Stuy community. While Miki had a wish list of artists she recruited, Velez also helped organize by calling on artists from The 60 Collective, a group show of 60 artists that he began curating alongside artist Craig Anthony Miller (CAM), in 2013. CAM, who is renowned for his powerful animal-themed murals throughout the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn, also has personal ties to the BedStuy area.
When CAM arrived to work on the mural, he realized that the block he was assigned to paint on was also home to Antioch Baptist Church where he was baptized as a child. CAM, whose parents hold deep religious roots in the South, said his family called the church home during his childhood. CAM fondly recalled serving as an usher boy, attending Sunday school, and spending every holiday service surrounded by the stained-glass windows, which became an inspiration for his art. “My style was heavily influenced by the vivid colors and bold lines of the stained glass,” CAM expressed, “this was a full circle moment for me because this mural project was completed on the same block where I was inspired to create art as a kid.”
“This was a full circle moment for me because this mural project was completed on the same block where I was inspired to create art as a kid.”
“The church is the core of the Bed-Stuy community,” Frankie Velez expanded. “Pastor Robert Waterman gave us a tour of the church and offered Miki the wall within their parking lot.” Having worked previously with nonprofit Thrive Collective in public schools, Miki was aware the co-founder and Executive Director of Thrive, Jeremy Del Rio is also a pastor. “It seemed like a natural connection to pair Thrive with the Antioch Baptist church,” Miki explained. Together they collaborated on a mural that they thought would resonate with their parishioners.
For his mural on Lexington Ave, CAM painted a single dove, symbolizing the concept that one person can carry a message and inspire the masses. “Whether it’s Gandhi or Mother Theresa, one person can carry a message far and away,” said CAM. “For this project, it was Miki who is the one person that brought us all together to share art with the neighborhood that will continue to inspire and heal the community.”
“Whether it’s Gandhi or Mother Theresa, one person can carry a message far and away,” said CAM. “For this project, it was Miki who is the one person that brought us all together to share art with the neighborhood that will continue to inspire and heal the community.”
CAM, whose motto is “Always Be Mindful of Your Ability to Fly” said he felt surrounded by many “doves” during the festival, as all the painting artists shared the same mission to beautify BedStuy. CAM believes the murals will have a therapeutic effect that provides a healing benefit for people who live in the neighborhood. “The murals will create a good feeling, energize people and inspire kids.”
Artist AJ Lavilla, who painted adjacent to CAM, expressed a similar sentiment. Lavilla, who comes from an immigrant family, decided on the slogan “Don’t Quit Your Daydream” for his piece. In honor of October being Filipino American History Month, Lavilla, felt it was important to let kids know they could make a living as an artist. “Many immigrant families think the ticket to success is being a doctor, nurse or teacher, and they don’t know there are other ways to make a living off their creativity,” he said.
Lavilla currently makes a living from art commissions, designing clothes, and helping companies make online content, as well as through his own company, Lil Daydream NYC. He hopes his mural will inspire kids from all backgrounds to pursue their dreams, despite any stereotypes or challenges. “Art connects people” said Lavilla, “I wanted my mural to be a collaborative effort.” Lavilla had children dip their hands in paint and place them on the wall as a reminder for all people to reach for their dreams.
Lavilla hopes his mural will inspire kids from all backgrounds to pursue their dreams, despite any stereotypes or challenges.
Carlos Rodriguez, aka Carlos RMK, traveled to Bed-Stuy from San Jose, where he heard about Miki’s project through Andrew S. Espino, owner of the gallery 1 Culture. “I grew up surrounded by graffiti and listening to music from New York, so coming here for this project is like a dream come true for me,” he said. Aware that funding was limited for the mural project, they financed their own trip to New York. Rodriguez chose to focus his mural on a female figure that represents fertility, creation and connection with Mother Earth, as well as celebrate his Mexican heritage through an image of a brown woman creating life. “Through her crown life sprouts, while the feathers are a celebration of dance and movement, so we can connect to ourselves,” Rodriguez said. He concluded his mural by singing and playing a drum to give voice to his ancestors.
“The response of community was beyond my expectations. The vibe was cheerful, positive, and joyful.”
During the festival, Miki was overwhelmed by the love and support from the artists and her neighbors. “There were so many artists I love and wanted to include, but I ran out of space!” she said. Miki hopes next year neighboring businesses will get onboard and allow artists to beautify their storefronts, just as Pittsburgh-based muralist Ashley Hodder painted a mural of Spike Lee outside Good Times Deli on the corner of Green Ave and Stuyvesant Ave. “The response of community was beyond my expectations. The vibe was cheerful, positive, and joyful. Don’t worry, this is going to be an annual event,” she said, reassuring the Bed-Stuy community that the positive vibes were here to stay.