Updated August 21, 2019
Spending the day hunting for street art requires little more than good shoes, good weather and a halfway-decent camera, making it one of our favorite pastimes. And while we’ve discovered many different places to do it in New York City, Welling Court Mural Project holds a special place in our hearts. Welling Court Mural Project is an annual, multi-block, art beautification event located in the neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. The event is a celebration of art, as well as the culture and diversity of the neighborhood. The ongoing project perfectly exemplifies the symbiosis that can be found between artists and communities when they join together in the spirit of collaboration.
How Welling Court Mural Project Began
Welling Court Mural Project has a fairly simple origin story. Members of the community met with members of Ad Hoc Art at their Brooklyn gallery, community space, and think-tank. Ad Hoc Art is an organization with a mission to champion underground art, activism, and graffiti in order to inspire social change and address community challenges through art.
During that early meeting, negotiations began on a joint project between the two parties, concluding with community members asking Ad Hoc Art to come up with a plan to beautify their neighborhood. Months later, the result was the establishment of Welling Court’s first commissioned mural, which was completed in December 2009. In addition, agreement was reached on plans to launch the inaugural Welling Court Mural Project in May 2010. From there it transformed into an annual affair, spanning over multiple streets in Astoria. A decade and hundreds of murals later, Welling Court Mural Project is stronger than ever, its reach expanding with each iteration.
What to Look Out For at Welling Court Mural Project
Over the years, incredible murals from local, national, and international artists have adorned the walls, gates, and fences of the small community. The subject matter of the murals at Welling Court Mural Project span the gamut, from whimsical to pragmatic. Street art, murals and graffiti are a popular form of self-expression. And though the sky’s the limit, we often find some common themes. As you wander around Welling Court Mural Project, see if you can spot some of these yourself:
Pop Culture and Current Events
Like many of our favorite street art galleries in New York City, Welling Court Mural Project is ever-changing, so each visit is a different experience. But pop culture references are abundant, from Star Wars quotes to familiar faces. In 2017, artist Christian Hooker’s “Queen Trump’s a Drag” Andy Warhol-esque mashup of Donald Trump and Marilyn Monroe with Twitter-patterned wallpaper in the background seemed an accurate snapshot of the time.
Like all other forms of art, street art is also a popular vehicle for commentary about social issues. If people are thinking about it and talking about it, then street art often depicts it too. Sometimes more difficult issues like abortion are a natural fit. We found a piece by Amanda Newman Art which featured images of Whoopie Goldberg and Busy Philipps with the hashtag YouKnowMe. The piece references a viral tweet in May 2019 by Busy Philipps which shared the statistic that 1 in 4 women have had an abortion. The actor urged women to share their stories with #YouKnowMe to help remove shame around the subject. The tweet exploded and gave the issue a giant spotlight in the face of growing restrictions. Yet another polarizing issue was captured in a Captain America shield mural by artist Jose Joaquin Avila Rodriguez, with it’s bold pronouncement, “Look, American needs immigrants to be great again…”.
Welling Court Mural Project makes it a point to include local artists in its talent pool, so you’ll also often find murals dedicated to local history and events. For the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, artist John Fekner and Don Leicht created a fantastic mural depicting an interracial gay couple in the style of famed New York artist, Elaine de Kooning. In an incredible marriage of street art and fine art, the artists created the piece employing her signature Abstract Impressionism portraiture style. Both Fekner and Leichy have been longtime contributors to Welling Court Mural Project.
In contrast, street artist JCORP decided to commemorate the event by featuring anime characters. According to the artist: “I’ve decided to dedicate this mural to a seminal historical work in Queer anime: Revolutionary Girl Utena. Released in 1997, this series explores complex themes that were hugely ahead of its time: non-binary gender identification, challenging normative understanding of sexual orientations, domestic violence, and empowerment through growth and acceptance. It was a hugely influential part of my childhood and I hope it can continue to inspire moments of growth for all of us!”
Even street art itself is a topic up for discussion. As an anonymous artists proves with this provocative, tongue-in-cheek Bushwick Collective reference, there’s nothing off limits. Bushwick Collective is an organization that has become more and more selective and exclusive over the years, even going so far as bestowing their “approved artists” with an official @thebushwickcollective tag for their murals.
On one of our post-Bushwick Block Party visits, we came across a few artists who spoke of their frustrations with being refused official walls and recognition year after year and the challenges of obtaining approval off the main thoroughfare for their own pieces. This Welling Court Mural, depicting Bushwick Collective as the McDonald’s of the street art world, is clearly a forceful push back, questioning the organizations true motivations and challenging their authority to proclaim the legitimacy of any particular street artist. And the message is acutely direct, having been tagged @thebushwickcollective.
How to Get to Welling Court Mural Project
Take the N or W train to 30th Ave. Then go west down 30th Ave to 12th St. by walking 10-15 minutes or by hopping on the Q18 Bus. Welling Court is a street off Main Ave and 30th Ave in Astoria, but the murals have spread far and wide. Though some of the murals have likely been replaced, this map is a great guide for your street art hunt.
Welling Court is free and open to the public, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and the annual block party and “unveiling” boasts music, food, and much, much more. Go for the party, but also make sure you revisit to see the newest art adorning the neighborhood’s walls, gates, and fences in a different light. Think of its humble beginnings, and consider where it is today. It’s an amazing lesson in the power of community.