Brooklyn native and artist Katie Merz has already started to adorn the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Schermerhorn Street with one of her distinctive black-and-white hieroglyphic-style murals, whose words and imagery are based on conversations with locals.
Merz was selected from a group of 60 applicants for the mural commission at 80 Flatbush Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn by the site’s developer, Alloy Development. She will receive a grant of $50,000 to cover materials, equipment, and other expenses related to the piece’s creation. The mural will stand for about two years until construction starts.
“It’s incredible being a part of an experience that pays homage to the evolution of Brooklyn,” said Merz in a prepared statement. “I grew up here and experienced the evolution first hand. The most amazing thing, which has always been true, is that the street talks to you. The street life here is like no other – it’s a huge conversation that keeps moving and changing. This mural is a living monument to the voices and stories that Brooklyn endlessly tells.”
The murals are going up on two existing buildings at 90 and 94 Flatbush, both of which will be demolished before Alloy starts construction. Merz is documenting the interactive project and the people who are part of it on Instagram.
Alloy is planning a massive development at the site, with nearly 900 apartments, two schools, and cultural space in Downtown Brooklyn, an area that’s already seeing tons of growth. Included in these plans is the preservation of two 19th-century buildings on the site, which will be kept through adaptive reuse.
However, the proposal isn’t without controversy. Locals protested the size and height of the complex in August, NBC reported at the time, and the Boerum Hill Association has launched a petition against the complex, saying the 74-story, 925-foot-high skyscraper — if built, it will be one of the tallest in Brooklyn — doesn’t “respect the scale and design of our adjacent brownstone neighborhood” or the nearby landmarked and iconic Williamsburgh Savings Bank clock tower.
Alloy is seeking a waiver for the development, which will have to go through the public review process known as ULURP.
Dumbo-based Alloy Development is a prominent Brooklyn development firm whose projects include 1 John Street in Brooklyn Bridge Park, which now houses the Brooklyn Children’s Museum Annex, the Dumbo Townhouses on 55-57 Pearl Street, and conversions at 192 Water Street and 185 Plymouth Street.
In addition to Merz’s mural, Alloy is making further efforts to promote the arts at 80 Flatbush. The will donate 2,700 square feet of space in the complex to BRIC’s visual artist residency program, BRICworkspace, and house a program called Assembly, which attempts to get “court-involved youths” into the arts, the developer said.
Merz often uses white oil stick on black roofing paper, she told Brownstoner in March. It started when she was a farm residency in Nebraska where conventional art materials were scarce. “It’s low budget — all I need is my mind and $30 to change a site,” she said.
Merz’s many Brooklyn installations include one at 173 St. James Place in Clinton Hill, the exterior of the Ice Cream Factory apartments at 347 Berry Street in Williamsburg, and the inside of a parking enclosure at 67 Dean Street in Boerum Hill.
Merz also participated in this year’s Fort Greene and Clinton Hill Artwalk.
It’s not unusual for Brooklyn developers to commission murals and other artwork at development sites. For example, Barrett Design and Development commissioned a temporary mural for the construction fence and a permanent installation by artist Tom Fruin for Broken Angel in 2014. The same year, Domino developer Two Trees and Creative Time exhibited artist Kara Walker’s notable temporary site-specific installation “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby,” at the landmarked Domino Sugar Factory.
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