On Lower East Side, Public Art Gallery Emerges After Dark

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Photo courtesy of Nina LoSchiavo
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Bondy Export Corp., mural by Buff Monster

On a rainy Saturday morning in June, a small group of high school students joined artist Juliana Lazzaro outside Clinton Square Pizza and prepared to transform a rolling metal gate into a galaxy. Together, the pizzeria, the New York City artist and the Henry Street School for International Studies students would form yet another successful team working toward the beautification of the Lower East Side through the 100 Gates Project.

The 100 Gates Project is responsible for the murals that now appear on more than 35 security gates of Lower East Side businesses. The public art initiative, born from the imagination of artist and skateboarder, Billy Rohan and brought to life by the Lower East Side Business Improvement District, pairs local businesses with artists in an arrangement that’s mutually beneficial.

“It’s all about community and supporting small businesses,” said Lazarro. “I believe that artists have a responsibility. The 100 Gates project facilitates the opportunity for artists to give back to the community. Everybody wins.”

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This past January, 100 Gates won the $30,000 Neighborhood Challenge grant, allowing the project to take off at full speed. This was pivotal, according to Natalie Raben, project manager and Director of Marketing and Communications at LES BID. The grant money made businesses much more likely to get involved, knowing the only thing required of them was their gate and their cooperation.

An open call for artists in February generated a massive response, and by April, around sixty applicants were selected.

As businesses express interest, 100 Gates works with them to determine which of their artists is best fit for the job. With $300 for supplies, the artist and business are then left to collaborate.

“What an artist needs is absolute freedom and exposure,” said David Paul Kay, a participating artist paired with Melt Bakery. “The idea is perfect, it’s genius. You’re pretty much giving an artist what an artist cannot always get,” he said, noting that the opportunity for legal public art is not easy to come by.

As soon as he saw the bakery, Kay said he knew he wanted to use the gate to express a social message on marriage equality. Combining Melt Bakery’s brand identity of a circle and the trending motto he developed an affinity for, Kay abandoned his signature black and white palette and created a subtle design with a strong message – “Love Wins”.

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Melt Bakery, mural by David Paul Kay

“It was a piece of cake ­– or rather, ice cream cookie,” laughed Kay.

Involvement with 100 Gates provides artists with a platform, exposure and an opportunity to connect with other artists, he added.

By next week, 100 Gates expects to have 45 completed murals throughout the neighborhood, with plans to continue the project until funds run dry.

The success of the program can be partially attributed to the creative energy and appreciation of the arts embedded in the culture of the Lower East Side, according to Raben.

“We would love to be able to use this project as a platform model,” said Raben. “It can be replicated very easily in neighborhoods that have these kinds of gates.”

To see the artwork for yourself, check out the neighborhood after business hours, when shops are closed and gates are down. For those who want to hear more on the murals, 100 Gates is teaming up with the Municipal Art Society in September to deliver “Art After Dark: 100 Gates Project on the Lower East Side”, a tour of the unique outdoor gallery. For more information and to sign up, visit the official page.

-by Ricki Harris 

*All photos courtesy of Nina LoSchiavo