For years, Cutillo Playground in Boston's North End was bland and bare.
“When we first got here - what, about four weeks ago - this park looked dead. There was nothing in this park,” said Valencia Louis. The teen is from Dorchester and is part of the Mayor’s Mural Crew. It’s a summer job for this group of roughly 14 Boston High School students, who are paid to paint a mural.
Heidi Schork started the program 27 years ago, initially to clean up the city’s graffiti, but these days, the crew is responsible for some of Boston’s head-turning public works of art.
Lucia de Rosa, who lives on Stillman Street and visits the park daily, was the inspiration for their latest mural in the North End. Schork said she wanted to give de Rosa a little bit of Avellino, Italy here in Boston.
“There’s a certain level of nostalgia for home when you’re from somewhere else. I wanted her to open up her window and look out and see her village,” Schork said.
The teens started painting July 9. They finished one side of the park and are now focused on the wall by the playground. They’re painting poppies, birds, vines and villages.
They said they’ve gotten used to the heat and are unfazed by the paint that is seemingly permanent on their fingers. And they’ve been learning life lessons only a mural can teach you.
“When you look up close, it’s different from the bigger picture. You have to look back once in a while,” said Taylor Billy, a Jamaica Plain teen who’s been with the program for three years.
She’s off to college in the fall and said working with this group has taught her so much about life and how collaboration can create collective beauty.
“I think it’s kinda cool you’re part of something that made the community a better place,” Taylor said.