Urban Artists Help City Renovate Pedestrian Tunnel With Graffiti, Murals

May 18, 2015 | Bucky Turco

On Monday, the NYC DOT held a press conference to unveil its “art beautification project” at the 191st Street tunnel in Washington Heights. The agency commissioned graffiti and street artists to paint the passageway that stretches for nearly four blocks… legally. Over the past few days they’ve been doing just that and expect to be completely finished sometime around midnight, with the tunnel opening to the public Tuesday morning.

For years, the passageway that connects Broadway to the 191 Street subway station on St. Nicholas Avenue was drab, poorly light, covered in tags and uninviting. Months ago, the DOT installed LEDs and put up a notice on its website, asking “professional artist and designers” to apply. Among the people who were chosen by a committee from more than 150 applicants was COPE2, a once notorious bomber, who has done more than his fair share of damage to city property. This time around, he was using his aerosol skills to build, not destroy. And it’s good money. Each of the artists, were paid $15,000 to cover their fee and materials.

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Photos: (Before) NYC DOT, (After) Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork

He wrote “Welcome to the Heights” in his signature graffiti style. “It’s history,” said COPE about painting the space. “It shows that the DOT and transits cares for the community.”

He was joined by the likes of Queen Andrea, who was tasked with painting the entrance to the tunnel. She enlisted famed writer WANE COD to help cover her 200-foot section with oversize colorful letters that spell out “Today is your day” and “Estoy Aqui!” among other inspirational messages. She asked us not to post any work in progress photos. “I’ve been busting my ass,” she says, and wants it to look perfect.

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Photos: (Before) NYC DOT, (After) Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork

Queens painter Nick Kuszyk, Chili’s Nelson Rivas aka Cekis, and Maryland-based duo Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn also created eye popping murals.

Although it’s located at the 191st Street subway station, the tunnel is considered a covered street and therefore within the jurisdiction of the DOT rather than the MTA.

Once considered a symbol of urban blight by the City of New York during the ’70s and ’80s, graffiti has now come full circle and has been sanctioned by the DOE and the DOT as a beautifying agent. Is it only a matter of time before the MTA embraces the art form it once shunned? Time will tell.

(Photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)