A long-running public art beautification project was unveiled Wednesday, Aug. 17, at the Daniel M. O’Connell Playground in St. Louis. Albans, featuring portraits and inspirational quotes from famous icons associated with Queens throughout history and popular culture.
Queens Reflections fulfills the vision of former councilor I. Daneek Miller, who assigned 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 depict LL Cool J, Q-Tip, Jackie Robinson, Count Basie, WEB Dubois and even former US Open tennis star Naomi Osaka, who learned the sport playing on public courts in Jamaica.
“The cultural and intellectual icons and luminaries we are honoring with this mural not only helped shape the artistic legacy that defines who we are as a community,” Miller said. “They also worked to intricately shape and define our values. Now we have an opportunity to recognize the heroes and heroines of southeast Queens, control our narrative and tell our story not only in our own backyard, but with the world.”
Miller credited his successor, Nantasha Williams, for keeping his vision alive and making the project a reality.
“Beautification projects like this in our district are incredibly important,” Willams said. “They not only allow residents to take pride in their community, but also embrace the rich history of southeast Queens. I would also like to thank the artist, Eric Black, for his artistic creativity in reimagining this block that truly reflects Queens.”
Black assembled a team of young Queens artists including his best friend Adrian Brown, Nicole Wang, Justice Levenson and Levenson’s younger brother Tyler Blau, who is also an actor who will attend LaGuardia School for the Performing Arts in Astoria.
“Queens Reflections is a visual trip down memory lane, accompanied by relatable quotes meant to inspire and motivate the viewer,” said Black. “It’s more than a collection of images. To me, it’s an outdoor museum that should take 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 figures that people recognize instantly, to some that might be overlooked. These creative portraits should spark people’s memories and remind them of the power we all have as individuals and as a collective.”
Exhibited through NYC Parks’ Art in the Park program, JCAL Special Projects Manager Wendy Arimah Berot described Black’s selection process.
“The competition was tough for this project,” she said. “Our goal was to choose an artist who not only understood the roots of the community, but had a personal connection to it. Eric, who hails from Cambria Heights, possesses an artistic expression that accomplishes both. His chosen balance of sensibilities and iconic figures speaks volumes for the wealth of southeast Queens. We are incredibly proud of the work he is doing.”
JCAL Artistic Director Courtney Ffrench praised everyone involved in bringing the project to completion.
“As a well-coached 4×400 relay team, the relay began in then-Councilmember Miller’s office, then moved to JCAL, then to NYC Parks, and finally to the masterful hands of Eric Black,” Ffrench said. “What started as a dream has arrived.”
JCAL executive director Leonard Jacobs called Queens Reflections a stunning triumph of boundless imagination and boundless pride.
“It proves once again that right here, living among our families, friends and neighbors are some incredibly expressive and wildly imaginative artists with the power and ability to bring all of New York City’s attention to O’Connell Playground,” Jacobs said. “From the start, Eric Black showed that he was just such an artist – with the results now for all to see. How blessed we are to celebrate his work as he elevates the legends of our community over time.”
Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers grew up in the neighborhood.
“As someone who grew up near Daniel O’Connell Park and spent many summer days there, I am thrilled that the community will be able to celebrate and commemorate a visual representation of black excellence and recognize the contributions of our heroes and heroines through this mural,” she said.