He’s going to spell it out for you: art feeds young minds.
Pierre Francillon has a dream to fill the outer walls of Prospect Lefferts Gardens with building-sized flashcards to catch the eyes of the area’s fastest growing population: kids under 10. And with the help of a team of emerging and established artists, he hopes to have all 26 letters of the alphabet, each linked to a landmark or idea associated with the surroundings, glinting in the sunlight by mid-summer.
It’s educational graffiti, he says, although he’s looking for another name for the concept. The working name of the project is "PLG-ABC."
When Francillon was growing up in Brooklyn, the schools in Prospect Lefferts Gardens were among the best in the state. It was the 1970s, Jimmy Carter was president and making extraordinary efforts for education, and urban and street art culture was putting new emphasis on what activates youth from the fringes of New York City.
“There were these hippie go-go chicks that had an art program after school. I had art taught by school, and art taught by the artists in the neighborhood. We had that sense of community in art,” he said.
Everything changed after the blackout of 1977, Francillon asserted, when a pattern of white flight began. Influencers moved out, schools declined due to cuts in funding under the Ronald Reagan administration, and community nurturing self-expression in kids disintegrated.
Francillon’s idols of the city art scene — Andy Warhol, Keith Haring (whose work arguably helped graffiti to transcend to the the level of art) and Jean-Michel Basquiat —eventually became his friends and proved to him that it takes a village to raise a child.
And that it takes a child to raise artists' hackles.
“I gave Andy attitude, which Jean-Michel lived for" he said. "I was like first of all, I don’t see enough black people in your imagery. I was giving it to him. And he let me talk. I was 17. I was a kid on roller skates.”
Now 51, putting the tools and inspiration for artwork in the hands of children is his mission. In 2014, he coordinated a project with Michelle Obama for the “Drink Up” campaign to promote drinking water instead of soda. Francillon curated 13 artists to make distinctive labels for a 10-year-old entrepreneur’s water bottle company.
His mission now is to “make kids look up,” and for the world around them to provide support for their developing intellects.
“They’re hungry for it,” Francillon said. “Their world outside school shouldn’t be hostile to their learning.”
Teachers, parents and caretakers can use the letter murals as teaching tools, even planning outings to visit letters, he said.
Each letter will relate to things in the child’s immediate surroundings. “R” is for Rogers Avenue and the rose garden at the intersection of Rogers and Lefferts Avenue. “H” is for the hardware store on Hawthorne Street and Flatbush Avenue. Each mural will eventually also include a map of the neighborhood and where each letter can be found, so kids can scavenge for other letters.
He's paying for the materials himself, but money is already being offered to him.
Francillon announced his project via the Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Brooklyn Neighbors Facebook page on April 5, and the support was instant and overwhelming. Neighbors immediately began suggesting barren walls to fill, and volunteers came out of the woodwork. A group of mothers told them they've already collected money for him.
“I'm so down to help in any way that I can, a really neat and creative way to bring literacy to our daily experience in PLG!” said resident Lilly Ardell Stevens.
“We spotted it this morning. My daughter loved it! Looking forward to the rest,” Tracy Vitulli commented on a post about the letter “A.”
Francillon said representatives from the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio also pounced on the idea, and were urging him to expand the project to all of New York City.
“They can wait,” Francillion said about the city’s interest. “This neighborhood comes first. This is the area that raised me up. Now I am going to raise it up.”