‘Her Legacy Lights the Way’ community mural unveiled in Brooklyn

David Weinstein, chief executive officer of McKinney addresses the unveiling of the mural ceremony.
Photo by Nelson A. King

NYC Health + Hospitals’ Arts in Medicine program on Tuesday unveiled a community mural, dubbed “Her Legacy Lights the Way,” at NYC Health + Hospitals/McKinney on Albany Avenue in Brooklyn.

Inspired by the community, the mural remembers Dr. Susan McKinney, the first African-American woman to earn a medical degree in New York State, and celebrates the pride and joy of many cultures represented at the health facility and in the Central Brooklyn neighborhood in the epicenter of the Caribbean community.

Elements from NYC Health + Hospitals / McKinney are depicted in the art, from tomato plants, which the residents harvest, to popular activities they participate in and stories from the neighborhood.

Led by Beijing, China-born artist Peach Tao, NYC Health + Hospitals / McKinney said the concept of the mural was developed by engaging patients, staff and local community residents through focus groups, and later painted in collaboration with the community during a designated paint party.

“It’s been an exhilarating experience to dive into and explore stories the residents shared with me and the rich diversity of the community around them, which ultimately inspired the concept for the mural,” Tao said. “My goal throughout this process was to capture their spirits as best I could and produce a piece of art that will contribute to their continued healing and well-being.

“I’m very grateful for this opportunity,” she told the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “I’m just like a chef, and I hope everyone enjoys the meal.”

David Weinstein, chief executive officer, NYC Health + Hospitals/McKinney, said: “’Her Legacy Lights the Way’ for McKinnians, because we apply H+H ICARE values for everything we do by owning our integrity and compassion as long term care providers, holding ourselves accountable to those who look to us for comfort, respecting those we give care to and those we work with daily.

“All these assets culminate in the excellence of our continuum of care and services,” he added. “Today, we celebrate with pride the many cultures woven through McKinney’s tapestry through the medium of art, Art in Medicine.”

Seven other NYC Health + Hospitals’ facilities participated in the Community Mural Project and will be unveiling their murals through year’s end.

NYC Health + Hospitals/McKinney said the project is a flagship component of NYC Health + Hospitals’ arts-based initiatives, made possible through the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.

“Art has the power to bring communities together, as demonstrated by the vibrant new mural local artists created in collaboration with NYC Health + Hospitals’ staff and patients,” said New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray.

“This collaborative art piece celebrates the multiethnic history of the neighborhood while paying tribute to a pioneer who made our city a better place,” she added. “We look forward to continuing this work as we create more thoughtful, healing spaces across the city.”

Eric Wei, vice president and chief quality officer of NYC Health + Hospitals, and chair of the Art Advisory Council, said the collaborative mural-making process has been “a positive experience for our NYC Health + Hospitals’ patients, residents, staff and surrounding neighborhood.

“Each mural tells a story of the individuals and their diverse cultures represented by its community, as well as the history behind the NYC Health + Hospital facility, such as the depiction of Dr. Susan McKinney and her legacy as a trailblazer,” he added.

Laurie Tisch, founder and president of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, said it was “a privilege to work with the artists, patients, community leaders and health.”

“Decades of research have shown that the arts are a powerful tool in healing,” she told the ceremony. “We, at the Illumination Fund, are proud to support the Arts in Medicine program at NYC Health + Hospitals.” said care professionals involved in the creation of these amazing murals, now available for everyone to enjoy.”

Actress Ellen Holly, Dr. Susan Smith McKinney’s great granddaughter, who is renowned as “Carla” in the soap opera, “One Life to Live,” said her family has been “astonished” by the outpouring of love and support from Brooklynites, and the extraordinary attention paid to her family history.

“This whole idea was conceived in such an imaginative way,” she added, referring to the mural.

NYC Health + Hospitals/McKinney said the collaborative mural-making process is “a tool to encourage creativity, build trust and engagement between the healthcare facility and their communities, reduce stigma and foster pride in the public health system’s facilities through community-building activities, while promoting greater neighborhood wellness.”

It said nine artists led the collaborative mural process at eight NYC Health + Hospitals’ facilities, comprising: Patricia Cazorla & Nancy Saleme, NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue; Sophia Chizuco, NYC Health + Hospitals/Carter; Kelie Bowman, NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island; Oscar Lett, NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County; Tao, NYC Health + Hospitals/McKinney; Priscila de Carvalho, NYC Health + Hospitals/Metropolitan; Carla Torres, NYC Health + Hospitals/North Central Bronx; and Yvonne Shortt, NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens.

“I want to commend the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City for their advocacy to make the “Her Legacy Lights the Way” community mural a reality,” said Councilman Dr. Mathieu Eugene, who represents the 40th Council District that includes NYC Health + Hospitals / McKinney.

“As the first African-American woman to earn a medical degree in New York State, Dr. Susan McKinney has a powerful legacy in this community, and it is only right that her life’s work is memorialized through this very special piece of artwork,” added the Haitian-born legislator to be elected to New York City Council.

“I want to thank artist Peach Tao, the patients and staff of Susan McKinney, and community members for their creativity and dedication to beautifying this wonderful facility,” he continued. “It is my hope that, by working together, we will continue to collaborate on community projects that honor the legacies of our city’s historic figures.”

NYC Health + Hospitals / McKinney said the Community Murals Project builds upon a mural tradition that started in the 1930s, when the depression-era Works Progress Administration supported the creation of hundreds of murals across New York City’s public hospitals.

That continued decades later with murals by world-famous artists such as Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf.

The Community Murals Project is made possible with a grant from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund through the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.

The fund awarded NYC Health + Hospitals a total of $1.5 million in February 2019 to expand programs serving health care staff, patients and communities in sites across the City.

The grant also allows NYC Health + Hospitals to launch new programs that use the arts as a resource to promote employee wellness and resilience, and to combat compassion fatigue.

NYC Health + Hospitals / McKinney said the Arts in Medicine program at NYC Health + Hospitals “seeks to foster the emotional well-being, promote healing, wellness and engagement of patients, families, employees, and the greater health system’s community by integrating all disciplines of the arts such as literary, visual and performing arts throughout the public hospital system.”

Each of the facilities will hold unveiling ceremonies by year’s end to celebrate the community’s hard work and vision.

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