Chico and the man lend a hand to beautify school


By Jefferson Siegel

A school building on E. Fourth St. near First Ave. had a typical, nondescript facade until recently, when graffiti muralist Antonio “Chico” Garcia spent a Saturday on a ladder over the front door. When he was done, the school’s name, Manhattan School for Career Development, was creatively and colorfully displayed for all who passed.

But this neighborhood beautification project didn’t stop at the door. Chico and graphic artist Martin Medina spent eight Saturdays, joined by students at the East Village school, creating murals that would make Michelangelo envious.

A party was held last Wednesday in the school’s now-colorful lobby to celebrate the completion of the mural project. Principal Tobias Weissman faced a crowd of students and parents to ask, “You know the expression, ‘There’s a woman behind the scenes?’ Who do you think was responsible for getting the murals in the lobby?”

The crowd cheered in unison, “Maria Ayala!”

Ayala, the school’s parent coordinator, worked with the school to improve the quality of education and the students’ surroundings. She brought Chico to the attention of school authorities and the rest is art history.

The school is in District 75, the citywide special education district for students with learning difficulties and emotional issues. Chico is an alumnus, having spent a year there in his youth during which Ayala said, “he learned how to read.”

The lobby murals depict colorful Manhattan street signs and notable landmarks. Ayala recalled that when Chico suggested painting the Brooklyn Bridge next to a street sign reading “125th Street,” the students chided him for moving the bridge so far uptown.

The party was held to honor Chico, Medina and the students who worked for eight Saturdays to create the interior murals. Students received framed certificates of participation. Chico and Medina were honored with plaques. And the neighborhood has a school to be proud of.