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Rachel Alban on Collaborating with the Roosevelt Island Coler Community on Her Uplifting Photo Mural

On Thursday, November 30, I joined photographer, arts educator and writer Rachel Alban for the unveiling of her photo mural, “Healing in Community,” at Coler — a facility on Roosevelt Island that has provided care to New Yorkers for more than 60 years. After the wonderfully inspiring celebratory event, I had the opportunity to pose a few questions to Rachel.

This is so wonderful. Everyone is so appreciative, and your mural is remarkably powerful, as it so brilliantly captures the Coler community. How did this opportunity come your way?

Last winter, NYC Health + Hospitals put out an open call for a community mural project, and I applied. I was delighted, of course, to find out that I was one of ten muralists selected in a hugely competitive process. I am so grateful for the opportunity and to the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund for its support.

What was the concept behind your mural?

I am particularly interested in the notion of community and its healing powers. The principal intent of the mural was to heighten the sense of community among its participants and viewers and to inspire us to recognize that we all have a role to play in each other’s well-being.

Can you tell us something about its process?

For several months, I visited the hospital regularly, engaging members of the Coler community — including local residents, volunteers, and staff — in varied photography projects. It was important to me that the participants have their own hands-on creative experiences with photography before I began photographing their portraits in March.

Is there any particular reason you chose to work in black and white — rather than in color?

Yes, my deliberate use of black and white photography best highlights each person as a distinct individual, as they come together to represent the diverse Coler community.

This ribbon-cutting event has been so moving. It’s so lovely to witness such a positive, cheerful occasion.

Yes! I am so moved to see how much this mural project means to so many. And I am especially pleased that it’s the first photo mural to be featured at Coler since 1940!


Note: Committed to preserving more than 7,000 works of art and making them accessible to the public, The Arts in Medicine department at NYC Health + Hospitals curates the largest public art collection in New York City.

Pictured in second photo: (left to right) Stephen Catullo, CEO, NYC Health + Hospitals/Coler; Rachel Fawn Alban, Artist; Mónica Mariño, Program Director, Arts in Medicine, New York City Health + Hospitals; Rick Luftglass, Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund Executive Director and Judy Berdy, NYC Health + Hospitals/Coler Community Advisory Board Chairperson

Interview conducted and edited for brevity by Lois Stavsky; photos by Lois Stavsky