Bushwick students aim to inspire change with ‘Brighten Broadway’ art project

Students from EBC High School created art signs that are mounted, with the assistance of the NYC Department of Transportation, on sign posts along Broadway in Bushwick on Friday. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

“We want people to come for the art.”

Students from EBC High School created art signs that are mounted, with the assistance of the NYC Department of Transportation, on sign posts along Broadway in Bushwick on Friday.
Students from EBC High School created art signs that are mounted, with the assistance of the NYC Department of Transportation, on sign posts along Broadway in Bushwick on Friday. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Kevin Winter

Brooklyn students had a vision of a brighter Broadway — and it has come true.

Officials and students from EBC High School celebrated the installation of art on sign posts along Broadway in Bushwick on Friday morning as part of the "Brighten Broadway" campaign. Initiated in 2015, the art project hopes to create a more positive narrative for the thoroughfare.

Former student Sergio Suarez said he would see open drug transactions and people passed out on the ground during his commutes to the Dekalb Avenue school.

"Every morning I’d walk onto Broadway and see such a horrible part of my neighborhood that needed to be changed," said Suarez, who now lives in Yonkers. "Art plays such a big role in everyone’s life, whether it’s visual or audio, we’re all affected by it. So, by putting these pieces of artwork up, we envisioned that it would help put an end to violence and drug deals because people would be less likely to do these acts when people are watching and looking at something. We want people to come for the art."

EBC students used historical figures as inspiration for their signs.
EBC students used historical figures as inspiration for their signs. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

Councilman Antonio Reynoso recalled the troubled 1970s as a turning point when longtime residents fled Bushwick, only for gangs and violence to rush in. He welcomed the "Brighten Broadway" project as a way to help uplift the community.

"When the students came to me, they didn’t ask," Reynoso said. "They told me, ‘we want to do this and need you to advocate for us.’ I was more than happy to do so."

The installation includes 30 pieces of art that depict prominent and influential historical figures in the hopes of bringing a source of inspiration and beauty to local residents.

Local artist and former teacher Tom Gleisner, who has helped to direct the production of artwork, said it all started with a field trip around Bushwick.

"We took pictures of monuments and the culture," Gleisner said. "Students noticed the monuments were underrepresented and lacked diversity — people of color and women. So, we decided to change that."

One of the signs installed Friday features a likeness of Lady Justice, affixed to a post across from EBC and in front of a homeless shelter.

Principal Shawn Brown praised the students, saying the project is a way for teens to express themselves through art.

Councilman Antonio Reynoso speaks during a news conference Friday to praise students from EBC High School who created art signs.
Councilman Antonio Reynoso speaks during a news conference Friday to praise students from EBC High School who created art signs. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

"They’re all so passionate about this," Brown said. "It was a project that started inside our school, and the students decided to take it out into the community."

The "Brighten Broadway" project has been integrated in the EBC students’ curriculum, and was made possible by the Department of Transportation Arts "Arterventions" program.

The artwork is now on display along Broadway.

Kayla Simas