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NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health Services Unveils New Mural by Dindga Mccannon at Reentry Center on Rikers Island

Towards a Brighter Tomorrow! was created by multimedia artist Dindga McCannon with support from people incarcerated on Rikers Island as part of NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine’s Community Mural Project

The mural is on public display on an exterior wall of the NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health Services’ Reentry Service Center, a resource hub for recently incarcerated New Yorkers and Rikers visitors

Apr 18, 2024

Dindga McCannon provides guidance to NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health Services (CHS) patients as they paint panels of a new mural for the CHS Reentry Service

New York, NY — NYC Health + Hospitals yesterday unveiled a new mural on Rikers Island created by multimedia artist Dindga McCannon with participation by people in custody. The design for the mural, Towards a Brighter Tomorrow!, was developed by McCannon through a series of focus groups with people incarcerated on Rikers Island, who are patients of NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health Service (CHS). Many of the same patients later painted the design in sections under McCannon’s guidance with support from her son, fellow artist Harmarkhis McCannon. Envisioned as a welcoming, uplifting sight for the hundreds of people who are released from Rikers jail facilities each year, Towards a Brighter Tomorrow! is now on display on an exterior wall of the CHS Reentry Service Center, a resource hub for recently incarcerated New Yorkers and those visiting loved ones in custody. The mural is one of 37 created at NYC Health + Hospitals through the Community Mural Program, run by the system’s Arts in Medicine department and made possible through the generous support of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. A video about the mural, featuring interviews with the artist, CHS staff, and a Rikers visitor, is available here.

In bright, eye-catching colors, Towards a Brighter Tomorrow! depicts a diverse but interwoven group of five people walking away from a jail facility toward people with open arms waiting to receive them in the community. They carry with them such resources as education, resilience, family, employment, and love. Depictions of the sun, flowers, birds, and musical symbols across the mural represent sources of positive emotions that the CHS patients identified for incorporation into the final design. Around the mural’s edges are painted affirming words: support, self-love, courage, friends, hope, and dreams. 

Dindga McCannon poses in front of her mural after its installation at the CHS Reentry Center

“We are so grateful to Dindga McCannon for creating a framework within which the shared experiences and emotions of our patients can be creatively expressed. The resulting work of art exemplifies our vision for a welcoming, patient-centered reentry center, and captures our belief in the positive, resilient human spirit,” said Dr. Patsy Yang, NYC Health + Hospitals Senior Vice President for Correctional Health Services. “We hope the mural will serve as a beacon of strength, hope, and optimism for every person who is released from Rikers.”

“Decades of research have shown that the arts have an important role to play in reducing stress, helping individuals in their healing process, and in building resilience,” said Laurie Tisch, founder and president of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. “Access to the arts and participating in arts programs is particularly important for people who have experienced trauma and incarceration. Our reentering citizens will most certainly be inspired to see this beautiful, welcoming mural as they step out of their time at Rikers. To date, the Arts in Medicine department at NYC Health + Hospitals has created community murals in healthcare facilities in every borough of New York, and now Dindga McCannon’s mural at Rikers will bring hope and healing to all those who see it. We are proud to have made this and the other community murals possible.”  

“Arts in Medicine’s Community Mural Program is steeped in a collaborative process that includes community stakeholders working closely with an artist,” said NYC Health + Hospitals Assistant Vice President of Arts in Medicine Larissa Trinder. “Dindga’s approach encompasses this tradition and opens up a broader conversation around how we should embrace and care for those coming back into society after incarceration. Artists are uniquely oriented to address larger societal issues affecting us all, and Dindga McCannon has always known how to do this well. We are grateful to her and her son, Harmarkhis, CHS staff, and CHS patients for this incredible contribution to our program.”

“Programs involving art therapy are important components in the process of creating safer jails for both staff and persons in custody, and ultimately reducing recidivism,” said NYC Department of Correction Commissioner Lynelle Maginley-Liddie. “Thank you to artist Dindga McCannon, the staff at NYC Health + Hospitals, and everyone involved in the creation of this beautiful mural that we believe will truly help inspire a brighter tomorrow.”

Patients in two therapeutic housing units that serve individuals with both substance use and mental health needs on Rikers participated in the mural project. These two Groups for Addictions Treatment Enhancement (GATE) units offer a stable, structured environment for CHS patients by leveraging the therapeutic community model and fostering peer-support opportunities. Patients in the GATE units at the Rose M. Singer Center (RSMC) for women and at the Otis Bantum Correctional Center (OBCC) for men receive coordinated care from a multidisciplinary team of clinical staff.

GATE unit patients participated in discussions with McCannon to inform her design and help paint it. Outlines of the mural design were printed onto five large sheets of polytab material that patients could fill in with colors mixed by the McCannons. The artist later added her finishing touches in a studio.

The mural has been installed on the side of the CHS Reentry Services Center, where formerly incarcerated people and visitors to Rikers will see it on their way from or to the jail facilities. The Center, open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to midnight, is staffed by CHS reentry liaisons, who can help connect formerly incarcerated individuals to community-based health and social services and provide naloxone training and kits and fentanyl test strips to all visitors.

“It was wonderful collaborating on this mural with the patients of Rikers Island. It was them who suggested the positive uplifting theme of the mural, as well as enthusiastically helping to paint it,” said artist Dindga McCannon. “Being one of the last things one will see when released from Rikers, it will send the person leaving a note of positivity. Art is an amazing tool that every person should enjoy on some level. There is a lot of talent within these walls and I hope that it will continue to flourish.”

Dindga McCannon is a multimedia artist born and raised in Harlem, New York. As a teenager, she exhibited her work with a Harlem-based art collective called the Twentieth Century Creators. In 1965, McCannon became a member of WEUSI, a Harlem-based Black artists’ collective that embraced African iconography, bold, bright colors and patterns, and Black subject matter. In collaboration with Faith Ringgold and Kay Brown, McCannon later formed the Where We At Black Women Artists Inc. collective, which provided community-based arts education and resources to individuals in prisons, shelters, and schools. Her paintings, quilts, prints and sculptures are included in the collections of such prominent institutions as the National Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Brooklyn Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art. She currently lives in Philadelphia, PA and Bronx, NY.

The Community Mural Project is believed to be the country’s largest public hospital mural program since the 1930s, when the depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) commissioned murals in public buildings, including virtually every hospital in New York City’s public health care system. The WPA murals were the start of NYC Health + Hospitals’ art collection, which is among the city’s largest public art collection and includes more than 7,000 pieces of art of multiple disciplines. The art collection is used to enhance the health care environment, inspire creativity, promote wellness, increase access to the arts, and engage staff.

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NYC Health + Hospitals: pressoffice@nychhc.org
Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund: Jan Rothschild, Rothschild & Associates, 917-891-1126

About NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health Services
Correctional Health Services (CHS), a division of NYC Health + Hospitals, is the direct provider of health care in New York City’s jails. CHS’ in-jail services include: medical, nursing, and mental health care; social work services; substance-use treatment; dental and vision care; discharge planning; and reentry support. In addition to providing direct patient care, CHS leverages the resources of the nation’s largest municipal health care system to help discharged patients successfully return to their communities. CHS is also a pivotal partner in New York City’s criminal-legal reform efforts.

About NYC Health + Hospitals’ Arts in Medicine Program
The Arts in Medicine department at NYC Health + Hospitals seeks to foster the emotional well-being and promote healing and wellness for all patients and their families, employees, and the greater community by utilizing the arts, including literary, visual, and performing arts throughout the health care system. In addition to managing the system’s significant visual arts collection, the Arts in Medicine department encourages evidenced based practices and provides technical assistance to all of the system’s health care facilities and clinics. This is accomplished by combining artistic innovation and education into a comprehensive health care continuum that supports the healing benefits of the arts. For more information, visit https://www.nychealthandhospitals.org/artsinmedicine/.

About NYC Health + Hospitals
NYC Health + Hospitals is the largest municipal health care system in the nation. We are a network of 11 hospitals, trauma centers, neighborhood health centers, nursing homes, and post-acute care centers. We are a home care agency and a health plan, MetroPlus. Our health system provides essential services to more than one million New Yorkers every year in more than 50 locations across the city’s five boroughs. Our diverse workforce of more than 43,000 employees is uniquely focused on empowering New Yorkers, without exception, to live the healthiest life possible. For more information, visit www.nychealthandhospitals.org and stay connected on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

About the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund
The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund is a New York City-based foundation that aims to improve access and opportunity for all New Yorkers and foster healthy and vibrant communities. In 2018, the Illumination Fund launched Arts in Health, a multi-year initiative to support organizations utilizing the arts as a tool for healing and building understanding in communities across New York City. The initiative’s areas of focus are stigma, trauma and aging-related diseases as well as supporting organizations addressing mental health in communities disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2019 the Illumination Fund supported the creation of NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine department, expanding programs serving health care staff, patients, and communities in sites across the City. For more information, visit www.lmtif.org or follow @LMTischFund on Twitter.