New York City is under fire for whitewashing a tunnel famous for displaying historic graffiti art

An ever-evolving graffiti art exhibit in Washington Heights no longer exists after the New York City Department of Transportation summarily painted it over, sparking community outrage. In response, officials are now promising to work with artists to replace the exhibit in the 1,000-foot tunnel, famous for its graffiti art.

“We plan to look for potential artists to design the 191st Street Tunnel. This is a priority for me because I understand the symbolic meaning behind this cultural mural,” NYC DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez told local ABC affiliate.

Local residents were shocked over the weekend to find the brightly painted tunnel had disappeared whitewashed.

“What happened here is just a slap in the face to the community,” local Luiggy Gomez told Gothamist. “They deleted the story.”

Technically called “Tunnel Street,” the three-block passage is the city’s only underground street, according to 6sqft. It serves as the Broadway entrance to the 191st Street subway station, which is the deepest in the system at 55 meters below ground. It was built to provide an alternative to climbing Fort George Hill to the other entrance on St. Nicholas Avenue, as the elevators are outside the remote zone.

A public art project in 2015 had beautified the tunnel with a series of five murals chosen from 150 entries.

The 191st Street tunnel before and after the whitewash.  Photo courtesy of City Council Member Carmen De La Rosa.

The 191st Street tunnel before and after the whitewash. Photo courtesy of City Council Member Carmen De La Rosa.

Artists included longtime New York City graffiti artist Fernando “Cope 2” Carlo Jr., who began tagging the streets in 1978, with additional works by Nick Kuszyk, Nelson “Cekis” Rivas, Andrea “Queen Andrea” von Bujdoss and Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn.

Much of this work has since been covered in graffiti tags, but the exhibit was still something of a local landmark. It also had a prominent role in the 2021 film directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda. in the heightsin a fantasy sequence where Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz) recalls moving to the United States from Cuba in the song “Paciencia y Fe”.

Eine Szene aus <em>In the Heights</em>, filmed in the 191st Street Tunnel.  ©Likely Story, Endeavor Content, 5000 Broadway Productions, SGS Pictures, Barrio Grrrl!” width=”600″ height=”340″ srcset=” /3754_in-the-heights_191-street-subway-station_0.jpeg 600w,×170. jpeg 300w” sizes=”(max-width: 600px) 100vw, 600px”/></p>
<p id=A scene out in the heights shot dead in 191st street tunnel. Photo: © Likely Story, Endeavor Content, 5000 Broadway Productions, SGS Pictures, Barrio Grrrl!

The tunnel was recently the subject of a news Article denouncing the people using drugs and leaving garbage and “gross graffiti tags” in the tunnel.

Local City Council Member Carmen De La Rosa and Nira E. Leyva-Gutiérrez, executive director of the Northern Manhattan Arts Arts Alliance, which worked with the DOT on the 2015 murals, issued a joint statement claiming to support the community’s demands for a Enhancing the Passage “I have never advocated removing the soul of the tunnel by erasing the local art that was emblematic of the tunnel.” They were “upset and disappointed,” they added, that the DOT acted without to warn or involve the community.

New graffiti tags were already visible on the tunnel’s freshly painted walls at a DOT press conference where Rodriguez vowed to issue a new “Request for Proposals” for the site this week.

“We look forward to working closely with the community and local elected officials on a project that celebrates the culture and diversity that makes New York so special,” DOT interim press secretary Vincent Barone told the local NBC affiliate.

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