BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO
All of the artwork on display in empty downtown storefronts will be available for purchase through the East End Arts Council.
Window shopping along parts of East Main Street has for years proved to be a futile endeavour, with passersby likely only to see For Sale signs papered over empty storefronts — and maybe a reflection of downtown Riverhead’s long-shuttered Suffolk Theatre.
The East End Arts Council, however, has turned that depressing string of vacated storefronts into display cases for local artists, suddenly transforming the beleaguered downtown Riverhead into the East End’s largest outdoor art gallery. Council staff has been working over the last few days to decorate the storefronts of nine vacant buildings with photos, paintings and even a video under the first-ever Storefront Gallery Exhibit project. The works, which are all on sale, will be displayed throughout the summer in an effort to help beautify downtown.
“Here we sit in downtown Riverhead and there is not a lot happening,” said EEAC executive director, Pat Snyder. She said she hoped the project will “show there is some energy and commitment to downtown.”
Council staff put out a call for submissions in March and received 80 pieces of artwork, from which 60 were chosen for display on Main Street, Ms. Snyder said.
In celebration of the Peconic River, which runs parallel to Main Street, all the pieces feature various interpretations or depictions of water.
Aquebogue artist Cliff Baldwin will also play his short film, “I love Riverhead and Riverhead loves me,” which features his head underwater, via a projector in one of the windows.
“It will be the only operating theater in downtown Riverhead,” Ms. Snyder joked.
Ray Pickersgill, who owns Robert James Salon and is president of the downtown Business Improvement District, said he hopes the project can generate some foot traffic in the downtown area, which is home to a staggering 30 vacant buildings.
He said he’s read about similar projects that have successfully revitalized other blighted towns.
“It gives [downtowns] some life,” he said.
Riverhead Enterprises and Apollo Real Estate Advisors — the two groups that own the vacant buildings — have donated the space and are fully on board for the art show, Ms. Snyder said.
“The project will enhance the appearance of the vacant stores downtown and hopefully bring some new retail tenants,” said Sheldon Gordon, managing partner of Riverhead Enterprises.
The project drew submissions mostly from local artists like Tiffany Pelczar of Riverhead, who submitted a painting called “One Fish, Two Fish.”
“People are so disappointed with how [Main Street] looks, but no one wants to make it better,” said Ms. Pelczar, an arts education graduate student at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “I thought this would give a different image to downtown.
To kick off the Storefront Gallery Exhibit, the EEAC is throwing a downtown dance party Saturday inside 121 East Main Street. The party will feature food and live music by Center Stage Band.
Tickets are $20 at the door or $15 if purchased at eastendarts.org by today, Thursday. The dance party will feature a cash bar and food from Digger O’Dell’s on West Main Street, with all proceeds going to benefit the arts council, a nonprofit organization.