Mural Honors Langley Park’s Diversity

By Christina Scheltema on January 27, 2016
Holton Lane Diversity Mural. Christina Scheltema for East City Art.

A new mural on Langley Park’s Holton Lane portrays migratory animals from around the world, honoring the community’s diversity and large immigrant population.  This mural was funded, designed, and installed through a partnership between the Takoma-Langley Crossroads Development Authority and artists Alicia Cosnahan and Peter Krsko. The mural, shown above, is located in the 1300 block of Holton Lane, across the street from the Langley Park Post Office, in a retail area comprised of mostly small businesses.  The mural itself is on the side wall of an Aldi’s supermarket.

Located just blocks from the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard, Holton Lane is in the center of Langley Park’s International Corridor, recognized by the state of Maryland and the Metropolitan Council of Governments for its diversity.  Langley Park —located in both Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, and falling within the city boundaries of both Hyattsville and Takoma Park—is home to residents from Central America, West Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean, as well as a few Native Americans.  According to 2010 Census data, Langley Park has the greatest racial and ethnic diversity of in Maryland, and about 77% of the population identified as Hispanic or Latino, of any race.

Melody Isis, Executive Director of the Crossroads Development Authority, first conceived of the mural when she learned of a funding opportunity.  She told East City Art, “I knew this wall was glaringly in need of something and the city was interested in public art.” She had seen Peter Krsko’s work, and approached him about doing a mural.  She then secured the property owner’s permission and support for a mural, applied for a grant, and received the necessary funding from the City of Takoma Park.

The mural was designed through a series of community meetings.  According to Krsko, the community decided to express the neighborhood’s diversity symbolically, through animals with freedom to move, to put a positive spin on the immigration debate.  Although the artists proposed a design featuring certain animals, these changed with community feedback.  The final design features a large sea turtle, migratory fish, mammals, birds, and butterflies, all of which cross borders between nations as they please, in the course of their normal life cycle.  Ms. Isis said, “I feel that animals are timeless and symbolic—will remain always relevant.”  The animals are painted over a backdrop representing flora and fauna of the mid-Atlantic.

Detail of Zebra, with Ear of Corn in Background. Christina Scheltema for East City Art.

When it was time to paint the mural, Cosnahan and Krsko used the project to bring people together through a series of open painting sessions. “We set aside hours on Wednesdays and Saturdays to invite the community to paint,” Krsko said.  Sometimes as many as 30 people would show up to paint at a time.  People of all ages and walks of life attended the open painting sessions.

A few people were painting to try something new. Others found the painting meditative.  However, Krsko found that for this project, a lot of people were painting to get away from their troubles and worries and to create something positive. “For many of us it was a healing process,” he said.  One woman told me how the mural project helped her process her daughter’s suicide and work through her grief.  She learned to process this trauma through art. Earlier this year, she was working in collage, tearing up paper, making dark angry patterns.  However, on mother’s day, she began to discover healing. “As I was working, the light came through,” she said.

Holton Lane hosts a weekly farmer’s market several months during the year. On the day of the official ribbon cutting ceremony, a special Holiday Market was in full swing—well attended, despite overcast skies and a few raindrops.

Speakers included the lead artists, Krsko and Cosnahan, the market manager, Melody Isis, and local political dignitaries. Kate Stewart, Mayor of Takoma Park, told the crowd, “We should keep in our hearts and our minds the importance of making people feel welcome.” Another speaker said, “This beautiful mural of migrating species is representative of what Montgomery County is all about.”

Crossroads Development Corporation gave out buttons proclaiming, “I am a Muralist” to all artists, young and old, who helped paint the mural.  To celebrate, Cosnahan, Krkso, and the other artists participating in the mural project held a group show turning the donated storefront space used for community and artists meetings and project staging into an art gallery for a day.  Due to intermittent raindrops, this “gallery” also became the site of live performances celebrating the Langley Park’s Diversity.

Detail of Crane and Wildebeast. Christina Scheltema for East City Art.