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September 25, 2022

Online version posted September 20, 2022

By James Barron

Four Blocks Long, With Touches of Bahama Sea Blue
Teenagers are helping to give 34 roll-up garage doors in Lower Manhattan a makeover.
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James Barron/The New York Times

Zaniyah Howell, 14, was up on a ladder with the Rocky Mountain Sky. Her sister Domenicia, 13, was on the sidewalk below with the Blue Lapis. They were concentrating on their brushwork.

 

They were painting part of a four-block-long mural in the Hudson Square area — if you think of a long line of roll- up garage doors at a UPS delivery facility as a mural. It’s a low-to-the-street tableau broken by the vertical lines of the garage bays — and, now, the diagonals of the color combinations on the 34 doors themselves.

 

They have gone from bland to bright in recent days. One got a makeover in Miami Green and Bahama Sea Blue. Another became half Berry Wine Oriole and half Grape Green. 

 

Hudson Square Properties, which is putting up an office building across Greenwich Avenue from the UPS center, enlisted the nonprofit Publicolor to brighten the neighborhood. Publicolor, which runs programs for students at risk of dropping out, sees painting as a way to prepare them for later life. It says that all of the students in its tutoring programs and after-school workshops go on to college or accredited programs after high school. 

Its students have spruced up more than 300 schools and 250 community facilities since Publicolor began in the 1990s, including a building in Downtown Brooklyn that the Howell sisters worked on during the summer. Domenicia said the walls there were “bumpy.” 

 

Hudson Square Properties approached UPS about painting the gates. “We’re honored to be the canvas,” said Laura James, a global community director with the UPS Foundation. She described the look before the mural makeover as “gray — not apocalyptic but nothing fun to look at.” Domenicia described it as “old and rusty and plain.” 

 

Not anymore. Ruth Lande Shuman, the founder of Publicolor, worked out the design and arranged the colors. “I wanted to create a greater sense of movement and of belonging,” she said. “I took the colors of the spectrum and divided them so they meet on diagonals, which is more active than if they are meeting on vertical lines.”

 

Hudson Square Properties covered the costs and assembled 280 volunteers from 57 companies, many of which are tenants in buildings in its commercial real estate portfolio in the area. They worked with 80 students from Publicolor to change the function-over-form look of the chunky UPS facility, which dates to shortly after World War II.

 

“This was a huge departure for us,” Ms. James said. “We tend to fade into the background. We’re going to have to get used to being the pretty one on the block.”