At an Amtrak underpass tucked away in Astoria, Queens, a man and a woman stand opposite one another with paint rollers and spray cans in their hands.
They’re putting the finishing touches on two giant murals — each one slightly bigger than a subway car — showing ancient Greek motifs, the national flag and philosophers like Socrates.
In Astoria, with its large Greek community, the two murals allow residents to celebrate their heritage, says Marthalicia Mattarita, the murals’ artist and a Harlem native.
“The other day, this woman came to me and said, ‘Wow, I get to walk by and be reminded of how proud I am to be Greek,”” says Mattarita, who has painted more than 30 murals in New York City.
The murals are just one of 15 projects that Noah Sheroff, a 29-year-old Queens native, has spearheaded in the last two years.
Sheroff is the founder of 501(See)(Streets), a nonprofit organization that recruits professional artists to paint outdoor murals for NYC community groups looking to beautify their neighborhoods. Community groups range from businesses to police precincts to civic associations.
“We’re like the intermediary between the artist and the community groups,” says Sheroff, who works with a network of 25 artists.
For artists who don’t have studios or a lot of money, street murals provide an avenue for showcasing their talent, says Lisa Bateman, an adjunct associate professor of fine arts at Pratt Institute.
“I think street art started as a response to the economy,” says Bateman, who specializes in installation art.
Outside, there’s no need to impress curators or art dealers, a typical hurdle. The public is the only audience.
501(See)(Streets) completed its first mural project in the summer of 2014, but it wasn’t until January 2015 that it officially became a 501(c)3 nonprofit. So far, the nonprofit has completed 15 murals in New York City, mostly in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.