Exclusive Interview: Celebrating Jersey City’s Diversity at the Sister Cities Mural
Every summer, Jersey City gets a beautiful new mural created by our city’s talented young artists through the Youth Summer Public Art Program as part of the Jersey City Mural Arts Program (JCMAP). The Youth Summer Public Art Program is a yearly hands-on, intensive muralist workshop for aspiring young artists that aims to promote interdisciplinary art history education as well as provide opportunities for young people to engage in the interactive processes inherent in the production of public art. This year’s theme is Sister Cities, with imagery representing 22 cities in 19 countries with established Jersey City sister city agreements painted on the side of James J Ferris High School measuring 100’x30’. To be recognized as a sister city, there must be a representative in Jersey City with a connection in the other city interested in forming a bridge of partnership. While most cities can boast having a sister city or two, having over a dozen connections internationally representing just a small part of the people who call here home speaks to Jersey City’s long-standing title of “America’s Most Diverse City.”
“The mural is meant to inspire a dialogue within the community of Jersey City,” said Duda Penteado, a Jersey City-based fine artist, filmmaker and Creative Director of Jersey City’s Youth Summer Public Art Program. “Jersey City is a city that speaks more than 50 languages with so many different cultures here. Obviously, the sister cities are a byproduct of that … We wanted to do this topic this year to get people thinking about what it means to create international relationships. In our diverse city, it is a very good thing to have them represented to reflect upon.”
The cities represented in the mural are: Rosario, Argentina; Saint John’s, Antigua; Vitoria, Brazil; Nantong, China; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Karpathos, Greece; West Gomoa, Ghana; Budapest, Hungary; Sant’arsenio, Italy; Dublin, Ireland; Jerusalem, Israel; New Delhi and Kolkata, India; Indrawati, Nepal; Cusco, Peru; Ozamiz and General Santos City, Philippines; Bucharest, Romania; Oviedo and San Martin of King Aurelio, Principality Of Asturias, Spain; Suwon, South Korea; San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA.
Jersey City Mural Arts Program
The process begins with the JCMAP team – Brooke Hansson, Director of JCMAP; Catherine Hart, fine artist, muralist, and Assistant Creative Director of the Youth Program; and Penteado – selecting about 30 students, ages 13 to 25, from over 100 applications to work on the project each year. Students must present a portfolio of art and go through a rigorous interview process to be chosen to be part of the intensive job. It’s not for the weak – starting the week after the 4th of July until mid-August, selected students are committed to six weeks of research, design, teamwork, and painting in the hot, and unpredictable, summer weather.
“This is a very elite program preparing them to become professional artists, especially those who want to do murals and work with the public. It’s a lot different than painting in a studio for a gallery,” said Penteado “We ask them technical art questions but also questions like, ‘Are you OK staying in the sun? Are you OK on the lift? Are you OK working with your peers?’ It’s a whole different experience working in the sun and spraying and walking back and forth, sweating.”
The student artists form small teams to work on specific sections of the wall, receiving step-by-step instruction on public art techniques, concept development, surface preparation, design enlargement, paint application, and preservation of outdoor art. In addition to completing a public work of art, the project’s objective was to instill in them a comprehensive work ethic essential to their future career as professional artists.
In the end, each group has their distinct style, so it doesn’t look like one artist painted the entire piece, which is by design. Countries that may, on paper, be very different merge together though connectors, like flowers, rivers, and other elements that are found across cultures to bring them together.
“We wanted to make the Sister Cities mural look different but connected because we belong to one world,” said Penteado. “Even though we do have our differences, we also have our collective shared existence that makes us human beings.”
The pay-off to hours in the sun with paint cans in hands is both figurative and literal. Not only do the students get to learn the ropes of mural painting from industry professionals and walk away with an incredible addition to their resumes and portfolios, they are also paid hourly for their work. The youth program was created by the mayor’s office within JCMAP and is backed in part by a few grants as well as private sponsors. For Penteado, it was important to him to make the program as professional and impressive as possible when it was started seven years ago, which means needing the resources to back it up.
An Open Sky Museum
“This program is really an initiative by Mayor Fulop,” said Penteado. “He wanted to create an open sky museum, and our mural program is the fastest growing program of its kind in the state of New Jersey with more than 200 murals today. Jersey City is becoming a destination for murals and that kind of art, and what makes this project so special is that it is being embraced by the mayor and the city, while in most cities that is not the case.”
The program is about more than producing an attractive mural, however. Above all, Penteado is passionate about empowering Jersey City youth. From across the Wards and all walks of life, students come together to be educated, learn how to work together as a team, and walk away with a substantial foot in the door to help achieve their dreams in the art world and college and jobs in the future, all while working to beautify their community and be paid for their efforts.
“Education is my passion, and I feel that the arts are a tremendous language of empowerment and reflection for the students and the public,” said Penteado. “What I tell the kids all the time is, ‘This program is designed the way I wish someone had designed one for me.’ I never had this experience, nobody trained me that way, and nobody paid me to allow me to have this possibility.”
The artists and coordinators who worked on the 2021 Sister Cities mural are: Ysabelle Abis, Roshard Ali, Cheyne Anderson, Dawson Anderson, Imani Anighoro, Coda Camaya, Frank Gadson, Viktoria Gaiser, Rakeelah Gardner, Claire Goldfinger, Barbara Gochis, Leigh Isaac, Nicole Isaac, William Kunga, Muhammad Masood, Amina Masum, Ria Monga, Exodus Medina, Phoenix Medina, Maya Phillips, Colby Reed, Zhania Scull, Muhammad Shahid, Isha Sidibay, Eja Simms, Nina Uy, Sandra Youssef, Maya Sanders (artist and Senior Project Coordinator), LucPaul Adams (artist and Junior Project Coordinator), and Bukola Adeleye (artist and Junior Project Coordinator).
The Sister Cities mural at Ferris High School is expected to be completed on August 13, 2021. To learn more about JCMAP and the Youth Summer Mural Arts Program, visit https://www.jcmap.org.