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Amid pandemic and busway, lotus blooms as mural enlivens 14th Sreet pedestrian zones

This month, the Union Square Partnership unveils a brand-new street mural installation along the pedestrian areas of the 14th Street busway between Broadway and Union Square West.

Titled “Ripples of Peace and Calm,” the 7,500-square-foot artwork is designed by Ji Yong Kim, a Sunset Park, Brooklyn-based visual artist, and educator. The mural is presented in partnership with the city Department of Transportation’s art program to highlight the increased pedestrian spaces created by the 14th Street busway.

The street mural was installed over a five-day period from May 23 to May 27 with the help of community partners and volunteers.

From left, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, Executive Director Jennifer Falk of the Union Square Partnership and artist Ji Yong Kim, at 14th Street and Union Square South as the mural was being painted on Wed., May 25. Falk held a color guide detailing what shade each part of the mural should be painted. (Photo by Jane Kratochvil, courtesy U.S.P.)

The design of “Ripples of Peace and Calm” features lotus flowers, floating leaves and swimming koi fish, evoking traditional East Asian paintings. According to artist Kim, lotus flowers are often found in murky, hazy ponds, but grow and reach for the light, eventually blooming a beautiful flower above muddy water. In that way, the growth and resilience of the lotus symbolizes New York’s collective experience emerging from the pandemic to a brighter, more hopeful future.

In addition to the lotus flowers, the koi fish in the mural symbolizes good luck and prosperity, as well as perseverance against hardship.

The mural also celebrates the antithesis of hate, spreading peace and calm in response to acts of violence directed toward Asians throughout the pandemic.

The new mural flanks the 14th Street busway on either side of the narrowed street, helping to indicate that these areas have been removed from use for motor vehicles. (Photo by Jane Kratochvil, courtesy U.S.P.)

“Union Square is a gathering place where people have historically, and will always, come together to stand up against injustices and make their voices heard,” said Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership Business Improvement District. “Union Square Partnership is honored to welcome Ji Yong Kim’s work to 14th Street, and we celebrate this vital message of resilience, solidarity and unity with the Asian-American Pacific Islander community. The mural beautifully encapsulates the strength and resilience that all New Yorkers have demonstrated over the past two years.”

“I want viewers in Union Square to find themselves standing on vibrating water, finding a rhythm of peace, calm and message of hope,” Kim said. “Throughout the pandemic, I became acutely aware of being Asian and often feared being targeted by Asian hate crime. My immediate response was anger, hatred and mistrust reciprocated in equal proportion. However, I come to realize that this is the wrong reaction. Responding in hate only further divides and alienates us. Thus, I designed this mural to be an antithesis of hate, resonating with peace and calm.”

“The “Ripples of Peace and Calm” mural is a beautiful addition to 14th Street that will enhance the experience of everyone who travels on or visits this part of the corridor, which has improved travel times for crosstown commuters,” said D.O.T. Manhattan Borough Commissioner Edward Pincar, Jr. “We thank Ji Yong Kim, the Union Square Partnership and the community partners and volunteers who came together to make this installation possible and are helping to make 14th Street between Broadway and Union Square an even more attractive destination for all.”

Jennifer Falk and Mark Levine helped paint the new street mural on Wed., May 25. (Photo by Jane Kratochvil, courtesy U.S.P.)

Despite strong opposition from Greenwich Village and Chelsea residents, some of whom filed a lawsuit that delayed the project, D.O.T. implemented the 14th Street busway project in October 2019 as a new transit-and-truck-priority upgrade for the crosstown thoroughfare. Today, the street is often so quiet, especially in the evenings, that one could almost hear a pin drop. The agency views the 14th Street busway as “a street-design prototype for the city at large.”

The center of the busway crosses the heart of Union Square, where sidewalk extensions were installed to create additional space for walking. “Ripples of Peace and Calm” is the second artwork painted on the new pedestrian areas on 14th Street.

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