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How to Paint a Changing Neighborhood

A mural celebrating Jewish heritage anchored a wall on New York City's Lower East Side for 40 years, then disappeared overnight. Now, the original artists are looking to start over, and bringing newcomers along.
The mural faded over the years before it was painted over entirely.
The mural faded over the years before it was painted over entirely.Courtesy of Sara Krivisky/Madison McVeigh/CityLab

On an overcast April morning, Sara Krivisky is scouting New York’s Lower East Side for a rectangular brick wall. She’s a petite woman with wild, strawberry blonde hair and tanned skin. Now 61, she grew up in the neighborhood and keeps an apartment in the same complex where her parents, who survived the Holocaust in Poland, settled after the war.

Krivisky is looking for the perfect spot for a mural. She’s accompanied by Terry Keller, her childhood friend, Tsipi Ben-Haim, the director of CITYarts, Inc., an organization focused on youth programs that commissions murals around the city, and Ben-Haim’s intern, Hannah Klemm. Krivisky has a gift for bringing folks together. About thirty minutes into their mission, the group pauses on Grand Street, a major thoroughfare that hooks up to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive. Krivisky has just expressed concern about a wall on an Apple Bank; Keller nixed another slice of brick for being too skinny. But across the way, taking up almost half a city block on the façade of the Henrietta Szold School, is a clean, blank slate that Keller has eyed for months. It’s a broad swath of brick with clear visibility across a main intersection, hitting all the right marks.