A Highway Underpass Turns New Haven Inside Out

Jun 13, 2012

A highway that once divided a New Haven neighborhood is bringing neighbors back together.  We report on a public art project that’s transformed a barren underpass into a lively mural of familiar faces.

To get from downtown New Haven to upper State Street, you have to pass under Route 91.

Most people see rusty steel beams that stretch a couple hundred feet, grey cold walls and eerie lighting. But to Ben Berkowitz, the highway underpass is something different.  

"Huge blank canvases, the perfect place to turn New Haven Inside Out."

Berkowitz, co-founder of the city’s popular SeeClickFix web tool, is also co-organizer of New Haven’s Inside Out project. 

Inside Out is a global public art movement in more than 8,000 locations -  from Thailand to Mexico to Tunisia to Honduras and now in New Haven.   Photographers take black and white portraits of people in a local community. Those become large-scale posters that are pasted onto walls in the neighborhood as a way to bridge divides.

"I live across from one of these two underpasses. This highway has divided us for 45 years, right? And now all of our faces from the neighborhood are on this highway wall."

Larger than life faces -  of workers, parents, children, young old… black, white…They line the highway underpass that once marked a boundary separating communities.

"The subjects, the models, all these beautiful people are neighbors. The people who took the photographs are neighbors. Everything from the money to the implementation is done by the people in the community through private dollars."

Nearly 1,000 people participated in the first installation which, unfortunately,  was vandalized last weekend. Berkowitz says the damaged portraits will be replaced. 

Another mural of faces is set to go up on the walls of upper State Street’s second highway underpass in the coming weeks.