The artwork is part of the Community Murals Project, which was launched last year by NYC Health+Hospitals’ Arts in Medicine Program. The project seeks to encourage creativity, lower stress and build trust and engagement between participating hospitals and their surrounding communities.
Gregory Calliste, CEO of Woodhull Hospital, said “Woodhull Heals” will beautify the exterior of the facility and portray the message that Woodhull is a “healing force” in the neighborhood.
“The mural itself will show how Woodhull binds and stabilizes the community,” Calliste said.
Dozens of people helped paint and make their mark on the project at last Friday’s event.
“We’re all participating in making sure we can do this mural so it becomes a community project,” he added.
Calliste said most residents of north Brooklyn, from Greenpoint and Williamsburg to Bushwick and Bed-Stuy, use the medical facility. A significant portion of the staff also reside in the nearby communities.
The hospital played an integral role during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Calliste said he felt the hospital’s performance in taking care of patients was “excellent.”
“Everybody came together,” he said, “in spite of the fear the staff had because COVID was something that was unknown at the time.
“We hope there’s not a resurgence of COVID,” Calliste added. “But if COVID does come back, we believe we’ll be much better prepared now to deal with it than we were at the beginning.”
Imani Shanklin Roberts, the muralist and painter who was selected to create “Woodhull Heals,” said she worked collaboratively with the hospital’s community affairs team and Calliste to come up with the theme.
They discussed what it was like to get through the height of the pandemic and what it meant for the hospital to have the support of the community.
“They really wanted to show not just the diversity of the community around the hospital, but also in this moment how important the community has been to their success,” Roberts said. “That was probably the most relevant theme that they wanted me to convey in the mural. I just brought their vision alive.”
The Brooklyn-based artist said everyone was scared when the coronavirus hit, even the essential workers and frontline staff who provided care. She said it took “faith and trust of the community” to help the hospital get through that tough time.
“I hope that this is celebratory, not of our total success over COVID, but that we’re going in the right direction,” she said. “We’ve moved through a phase of it. It’s a milestone.”
Roberts applied for the project at the beginning of the year, and was selected in February. When COVID-19 struck, she had to immediately shift gears. All of the meetings with hospital staff, during which the artist gets to know the team at Woodhull Hospital, were conducted over Microsoft WebEx.
“To be able to do something for this community, it’s more important for them to be part of it than for me to be giving something that I think is important,” she said.
After the event on Friday, Roberts said she will clean the mural up and give it her final touches. The mural is set to be unveiled officially on October 8, and stay up “as long as possible.”
“I think we’re in this amazing community filled with so many beautiful murals already,” Roberts said. “I’m grateful to be among legendary graffiti artists.”
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, State Senators Julia Salazar and Kevin Parker, Assemblywoman Maritza Davila and Councilman Mathieu Eugene were among the elected officials in attendance.
Davila, who called the project “therapeutic” for her, said the mural will show the rest of the city how well the community works together.
“We’re still living in uncertain times, we really don’t know how COVID is going to continue to impact us,” she said. “But this is a way to say that no matter what comes our way, we’re going to persevere and stay together.”
The assemblywoman said it’s also to thank essential workers and let the community know how important they are in keeping everyone healthy.
“This is about community,” Davila added. “It speaks volumes when a hospital can get us all out here at the same time to get this done.”