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The Brooklyn-based community-minded organization Groundswell didn’t have to look far for an artistic partner for its Summer Leadership Institute program.

The Brooklyn Cloth Co. obliged and offered T-shirts imprinted with “ART, COMMUNITY, CHANGE” and the group’s name for youth to wear while painting a few murals. In line with the art they are making, the shirts practically double as smocks that can be left with splatters of paint or traces of charcoal. The Brooklyn Cloth-made T-shirts help spread the word about what the artists are working on. A Groundswell spokeswoman said that was important, since they are painting in busy Brooklyn areas where there are many passersby.

Through creativity and collaboration, Groundswell engages more than 450 individuals between the ages of 13 and 19 each year. To date, the Brooklyn-based organization has created 600-plus vibrant murals that are meant to help build community through art and discussion in all five boroughs. Groundswell offers in-school and after-school programs as well as its Summer Leadership Institute mural-making program for youths.

Participants dive into critical research, arts education, political education, and creative problem-solving sessions where they develop a concept and design for the SLI public arts projects, then bring the design to community for feedback, according to a Groundswell spokeswoman. Teaming up with Brooklyn Cloth was fitting, since “it is all about making things with your own style. And the T-shirts are breathable and comfortable. We are getting some super-hot days so comfort is important besides the aesthetic,” she said.

Now the Summer Leadership Institute is gearing up for a few mural dedications. The “Murals for Change” will be unveiled on Aug. 22 at 4004 4th Avenue in Sunset Park; “Mural Voices Her’d” will debut on Aug. 23 at P.S. 938 in Cypress Hills; “Mural Making His’tory” will be dedicated on Aug. 24 at the Food Bazaar in Bushwick.

Earlier in the month, Groundswell hosted two paint days that were open to the public and at no cost to encourage people to leave their marks on the city, while also coming together as a community. 

Although the spotlight is about to shine on the summertime murals, Groundswell has a variety of special initiatives throughout the year that help empower and uplift participants such as “Voices Her’d,” which is a year-round initiative that address issues facing young women and topics about female empowerment. There are also mural residencies for youth, who are facing other challenges, sometimes that are carceral and justice-involved. Groundswell artists work within detention facilities to help dream up, design and create public art. The organization also has the Undocu Spark Lab to help immigrant and undocumented artists envision their futures.

Mural making could lead to bigger things professionally. Several leading fashion and beauty brands have used hand-painted murals for branding purposes, including Gucci, L’Oréal, Hermès, Burberry and MCM among others.


A participant in front of one of the group’s murals. Photo Courtesy Groundswell

Founded more than 27 years ago, Groundswell has worked with more than 7,000 youths and more than 825 partner organizations. A group of artists, educators and grassroots activists first rallied together to start the organization and focusing on using art as a tool for social change, and a more just and equitable world.