On Grand Avenue, “Las Flores De Esperanza” Spread A Mental Health Message

Anna Fountain | November 16th, 2023

On Grand Avenue, “Las Flores De Esperanza” Spread A Mental Health Message

Culture & Community  |  Fair Haven  |  Kwadwo Adae  |  Public art  |  Arts & Culture  |  Public Health


Artist Kwadwo Adae. Anna Fountain Photos.

On the corner of Blatchley and Grand Avenues, a small stretch of sidewalk burst into bloom. Along one side of Hancock Pharmacy, a sunflower spread its yellow petals, overlapping with a pink chrysanthemum that glowed at the center. To its left, a purple iris opened to the sun. Green foliage filled in the space behind it, making the whole morning feel more like spring than like fall. 

At the center of it all, artist Kwadwo Adae took in a community's handiwork. 

Saturday, roughly  two dozen people attended the unveiling of  “Las Flores De Esperanza” (“The Flowers of Hope”), the newest work of public art from artist and educator Adae to grace New Haven. A collaboration with Yale’s Program for Recovery and Community Health (PRCH) and New Haven’s Department of Community Resilience, the mural took a total of nine weeks to complete. During that time, Adae worked with apprentices, students, and volunteers from both the Fair Haven neighborhood and the wider New Haven community to paint the work.   

"Coming together with this was really a beautiful process,” he said Saturday. “Having everyone speak their input about what mental health means to them, it's really a beautiful thing to hear out loud. To have a forum where people can share from the heart what they struggle with, what they are excelling with, and how aspects of the community fuse together to make sure that we are okay in these times ... it's a multi-faceted, multi-level, multi-layered process."


The mural itself, which now adorns a brick wall facing out onto Blatchley Avenue, took weeks of preparation and two months of painting, with days spent battling heat, late-season humidity, and wet weather. As he has for all of his projects, Adae built a network of volunteers to dream up, prime, and paint the work, from members of FACE (Focus, Act, Connect Every-day) to Fair Haven neighbors who were intrigued by the new design, and came by to check it out.

Throughout, the artist worked to center mental health in the piece. Before painting and during the process, Adae talked to PRCH, the Citizens Community Collaborative and FACE about what mental health meant to each of them. During brainstorming meetings at the Family Academy of Multilingual Exploration (FAME) across the street, he struggled to come up with a single image that could encapsulate the breadth of the stories he heard from collaborators.

Then he thought about how flowers—also the subject of a 2022 mural in the city's Hill neighborhood—were a symbol of wellness and recovery. It was flowers that showed up in the hospital as a symbol of well wishes, flowers that waited for someone when they arrived home, often still healing. He thought about the bright blooms that grew in his father’s garden, the purple irises that were (and are) a symbol of mental health.  

They are also very dear to his own practice: Adae often paints flowers during the winter months, to stave off the hours of cold and darkness that fall around New Haven. The theme has since made something of a permanent garden out of a Grand Avenue streetcorner. 


Saturday, he praised Lorena Mitchell, coordinator of community mental health initiatives with the city, PRCH’s Billy Bromage, and lifelong Fair Haven booster Eric Gonzalez, who helms the Grand Avenue Special Services District, for their support. Without them, he said, the mural could not have received the same level of community input or come to fruition in the same way. 

That's also true of the many people who jumped on as collaborators. Artist Cheryl Rabe (pictured above, in the sweatshirt that reads "Queen"), who worked on priming the wall before painting, said she was very pleased with the outcome and the process. After coming to New Haven from Hawaii in 1994, she’s spent significant time in the city’s Fair Haven neighborhood, and seen it shift and change over the years. She loved providing input on the work during meetings with Adae at FAME.

In her own work, she reflects her mental health journey onto canvases with pastel, chalk, and acrylic paint, she said. The mural was a completely new experience.

“I feel great about it!” she said, adding that she hopes to help with more public art around the city going forward. “No matter what race you are, what color you are, what sex you are, you can always relate to flowers.”

"I think that it's wonderful to see art on exterior of buildings," added FACE member Do Walker in an email Thursday morning. "It makes that space unique and special. It shows that someone cares enough to put something extra above the typical sameness. As for the display, flowers are safe. Can you really go wrong with flowers?"


Mitchell, who had high praise for both Bromage and Adae, agreed. As she builds her role with the city, she said, she sees the mural as exactly the kind of work that municipal government should be doing to promote mental health and wellness across New Haven. 

“Art and mental health are intrinsically connected,” she said in a follow-up comment with the Arts Paper. “Artistic expression, and creative expression, and creating beautiful public spaces that celebrate communities—that is the work of community mental health, and that is the work of what our government office can be doing. We’re so grateful to have partnered on this project.” 

“Really, I think it’s an example of how government can support projects like these as being a coordinator, an in-between, a promoter,” she added. “The more that we can connect mental health and the arts, the better off we’re going to be.”

Throughout the painting process, that has very much been the case. In the two months that he's been present, Adae said he has felt extremely welcomed by members of the Fair Haven community, from kids who get off the bus at FAME across the street to the people who use the pharmacy every day. Grand Avenue, meanwhile, is a self-sustaining business corridor—meaning that he has gotten used to some faces that come by each day, just as they have likely gotten used to his. 

"When you drive by it, when you walk by it, I just want you to remember this moment, and remember that there are all these people here that are feeling with you, living through these same difficult times, struggling with you, striving, all doing our part to help make this place better," he said Saturday. 


By the time speakers had finished Saturday, the crowd had doubled in size. Down the sidewalk, it included young kids, artists, mental health workers, members of FACE, and even pets who had come out for the event. Many nibbled on sweets from Mi Lupita bakery just across the street, celebrating a neighborhood’s flavor one bite at a time. 

Caprice Taylor Mendez, who is a longtime friend and champion of Adae’s and also leads the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, said she’s excited to see the work in Fair Haven, a tight-knit community in which issues like housing, access to social services, and affordable wages and professional support are also very present. 

“Culturally, people tend to shy away from admitting health difficulties as it relates to mental health and emotional and psychological wellbeing,” she said. “Knowing Kwadwo’s artistry, he taps into the power of nature to bring healing. To me, these flowers bring hope to the community. To see the work … I think it’s a beautiful reminder how we need each other. We’re social beings, and if people need to reach out, they should reach out.”

She added that the work is also a reminder of the importance of asking for help and support, whether that is reaching out for financial and housing assistance or calling 2-1-1 for connection to lifesaving resources. 

While the mural may be done, Adae’s work on the corner is not. In the coming weeks, he plans to add a plaque to the mural’s rightmost side describing its importance and thanking the people who were a factor in its creation. As he has done around the city, Adae is also working with the Urban Resources Initiative to plant a tree close to the mural. Saturday, he asked Fair Haven neighbors to help water it. 

“We all deserve access to beauty,” he said, adding that the work marks his 30th mural project, and that he would like to return to beautify even more of the neighborhood with public art. “Not just the bastion of people that can afford it, we all deserve it. I'm trying to do what I can to make sure I can bring it to people.” 

Lucy Gellman contributed reporting.