Arts and Entertainment

Stuyvesant’s Muralistic HeArt

Stuyvesant High School’s lesser-known aptitude for art is brilliantly showcased through the school’s many murals.

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By Joyti Nath

It comes as no surprise that Stuyvesant High School is known for its rigorous STEM courses, which are deeply ingrained in both the school’s curriculum and philosophy. However, Stuyvesant’s lesser-known talent lies in the arts, and the school manages to capture its vivacious spirit with brilliant precision through its many murals, including Alice on the Wall, the murals on the Sophomore and Senior Bars, the student-painted music mural, and larger artist-commissioned works.

One way Stuyvesant showcases students’ impressive artistic abilities is through the mural by the Tribeca Bridge. Stuyvesant collaborated with CITYarts, an organization dedicated to transforming neighborhoods by working with students and artists, to create the Alice on the Wall mural at the base of the bridge’s stairs. Rich colors depict the Alice in Wonderland protagonist in her signature blue dress, hidden in various city scenes in a Where’s Waldo?-esque work. In one scene, the Cheshire cat sits in a tall tree looming over Alice’s head, and warped, distorted buildings stand tall around her. Playing cards, flowers, and stars fan out across the mural so that no space is wasted. Over the years, the mural has been used as a backdrop for countless bake sales, lunchtime hangouts, and friendly conversations, but its significance extends beyond these fleeting events. The mural’s maximalist portrayal of cherished childhood characters was originally used to inspire wonder, creativity, and love in the aftermath of 9/11, boosting both morale and Stuyvesant’s attendance rates. Alice now undergoes periodic revamps to maintain its pristine condition and allow new generations of students to express themselves. This year, Stuyvesant students have undertaken the difficult task of refreshing the mural by scraping off the old layers of paint and applying new ones, adding their own touches to the original design. Students and CITYarts members started the project on May 1, and are diligently working every day to finish the piece by the last day of school.

Alice on the Wall is only one of Stuyvesant’s many displays of artistry. The Sophomore and Senior Bars—located on the sixth and second floors, respectively—are given complete makeovers every few years, when new hands, brushes, and paints are used to reinvent the murals to reflect the contemporary class’s vision. This year, for instance, the Sophomore Bar is being painted with a grand blue ship colored with yellow and purple accents. The bars not only display Stuyvesant’s ample (but often hidden) artistic talent, but also provide many opportunities for students in the same grade to connect. These social spaces are often overrun with conversations on dreaded exams, discussions of weekend plans, and heated debates on the everlasting debate of Terry’s versus Ferry’s. 

Alice and the bars are not the only areas at Stuyvesant where art is exhibited. On the first floor, a vibrant student-designed mural occupies one wall. The mural uses bold colors and squiggly lines in the form of curved instruments and treble clefs to welcome students to the nearby music classrooms. Space is the Place, a mural painted by self-taught Australian artist Vexta, covers a rounded wall on the fourth floor, home to the Mathematics Department. The mural consists of a simple dark background covered with geometric diamonds—some of which are colored with neon streaks, while others boast murky gradients. Geometric solids representing beautiful constellations in the night sky take up the space between the large diamonds. In addition, a sizable red mural painted by Japanese street artist SHIRO spans an entire fifth-floor wall, paying homage to the physical education and language staff who spend their weekdays there.

Despite being renowned for its advanced math and science courses, the school’s special knack for murals indicates its often overlooked artistic community. These murals brighten up the building and allude to the multidimensionality and diverse talents of the students within.