Hamilton Heights mural by neighborhood teens draws inspiration from founding father

The mural is titled “Following in the Footsteps of Alexander Hamilton.”

A giant mural dedicated to the legacy of Alexander Hamilton sprouted up in the founding father’s old stomping grounds this week.

The 25-foot-wide, 80-foot-tall mural at the Alexander Hamilton Playground in Hamilton Heights was the result of weeks of hard work by neighborhood teens who teamed up with artist Hugo Bastidas and nonprofit CITYarts, the organization’s executive director, Tsipi Ben-Haim, said.

Titled “Following in the Footsteps of Alexander Hamilton,” the mural depicting a giant tree with words of inspiration draped across its branches celebrates the history of Hamilton Heights, highlighting “values of freedom and respect for nature,” event organizers said.

CITYarts has been collaborating with the Hamilton Grange Middle School for the past three years and the school has since become a leader in arts and science, according to Ben-Haim.

“A teacher told me he had a group of kids that had nothing to do on the weekends, and he thought CITYarts would be a good option to give them something to do,” Ben-Haim explained. “I told him to walk around and find good walls that are crying for attention that we could do a collaboration with the teens on.”

That’s how the group wound up at the playground, located at the corner of Hamilton Place and West 140th Street. Ben-Haim said she immediately knew the location was perfect for their beautification project.

“Everyone talks about Alexander Hamilton, right? Because of the play…And this play is making millions, but where [Hamilton] lived — in his hometown — kids are still playing in dirt,” she said, referencing the park. “The playground was just a very poor playground in an underserved community. It felt so unjust.”

Founded by Ben-Haim in 1989, CITYarts pairs professional artists with at-risk youth between the ages of 12 and 18 to bring public art to the five boroughs. Ben-Haim strongly believes that “when kids create, they do not destroy.”

Ben-Haim said she received positive feedback from the community on the Alexander Hamilton Playground project during an unveiling ceremony on Wednesday.

“Everyone in the community blessed us. People are coming and saying, ‘bless you that you’re coming and doing something in this park on this horrible wall,’” she said, adding that the teens vowed to not let anyone destroy or deface the mural.

“Why? When they come in, it puts a smile on their faces, it puts enthusiasm in their hearts to feel they created and gave back to their community,” she said.

The organization plans to create another mural in the neighborhood next summer.

Lauren Cook