A block-long public art beautification project began Wednesday, Aug. 17, at St. Albans’ Daniel M. O’Connell was unveiled at the playground featuring portraits and inspirational quotes from famous icons associated with Queens in history and popular culture.
Queen’s Reflections fulfills the vision of former Councilman I. Danek Miller, who dedicated the project to the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning (JCAL). Cambria Heights artist Eric Black was selected through a citywide open-call process. His murals also depict LL Cool J, Q-Tip, Jackie Robinson, Count Basie, WEB Dubois and former US Open tennis star Naomi Osaka, who learned the game by playing on Jamaica’s public courts.
“The cultural and intellectual icons and luminaries we are honoring with this mural not only help shape the artistic legacy that defines who we are as a community,” Miller said. “They also served to shape and intricately define our values. We now have the opportunity to recognize the heroes and heroines of Southeast Queens, take control of our own story, and tell our story with the world, not just in our own backyard. “
Miller thanked his successor, Councilwoman Nantasha Williams, for keeping his vision alive and seeing the project to fruition.
“Beautification projects like this are incredibly important in our district,” Williams said. “They not only allow residents to take pride in their community but also embrace the rich history of Southeast Queens. I also want to thank the artist, Eric Black, for his artistic creativity in reimagining this block that truly reflects Queens.”
Black put together a team of young Queens actors, including her best friend Adrian Brown, Nicole Wang, Justice Levenson and Levenson’s younger brother Tyler Blau, also an actor, to attend the LaGuardia School for the Performing Arts in Astoria.
“Queen’s Reflections is a visual trip down memory lane, interspersed with notable quotes that should inspire and motivate the viewer,” said Black. “It’s more than a collection of photos. To me, it’s an outdoor museum that takes people through the rich and inspiring history of this part of Queens. I wanted to have a healthy mix of people from all walks of life — some people that people would recognize immediately, some that might be overlooked. These creative images should spark people’s memories and remind them of the power we all have as individuals and collectively.
Exhibited through NYC Parks’ Art in the Park program, JCAL Manager of Special Projects Wendy Arimah Berot explained the process of selecting black.
“The competition for this project was tough,” she said. “Our aim was to choose artists who not only understood the roots of the community but also had a personal connection to it. Eric of Cambria Heights has an artistic expression that accomplishes both. His chosen balance of sensibility and iconic personalities speaks volumes for the richness of Southeast Queens. We are very proud of the work he is doing.”
JCAL Artistic Director Courtney French praised everyone involved in seeing the project through to completion.
“Like a well-coached 4×400 relay team, the baton started in then-Councilmember Miller’s office, then JCAL, then NYC Parks, and finally ended up in the capable hands of Eric Black,” Ffrench said. “What started as a dream came true.”
Leonard Jacobs, executive director of JCAL, called the Queen’s Reflection an eye-popping triumph of boundless imagination and eternal pride.
“It proves once again that there are some extraordinarily expressive and fiercely imaginative artists living here among our families and friends and neighbors with the power and skill to bring all of New York City’s attention to O’Connell Playground,” Jacobs said. “From the beginning, Eric Black showed that he was just such an artist – the results are now there for all to see. How blessed we are to celebrate his work as he elevates our community’s legends in time.”
Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers grew up in the neighborhood.
“As someone who grew up around the corner from Daniel O’Connell Park and spent many summer days there, I’m excited that the community will be able to celebrate and commemorate the visual representation of black excellence and recognize the contributions of our heroes and heroines. This mural,” she said. .