Art Takes Over Shore Front Parkway

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Daffodils and tulips aren’t the only thing popping up and brightening up the peninsula this spring. Random works of art have mysteriously started to appear along Shore Front Parkway.  The new additions are part of an extensive sculpture exhibit that will call Rockaway home over the summer.

From a tail-splashing whale to a roller coaster tribute to Rockaway’s history to a chain-link heart and beyond, visitors will have plenty of new art to see this summer as part of the 14 Sculptors on the Rock exhibit. Rockaway residents, Esther Grillo and Christina Jorge are the masterminds behind the project, which will feature some of their own work, along with 14 other artists, for a 17-piece display spanning a mile-and-a-half area adjacent to the boardwalk and Shore Front Parkway. Grillo and Jorge are members of 14 Sculptors Inc., a Manhattan-based art group that has provided artists with locations to display their work since 1973. This nonprofit organization, under the NY Foundation for the Arts, called a gallery in SoHo home for about 25 years, but now functions through a virtual gallery and sets up exhibits in public places across the city.  Rockaway is their latest public gallery, but it’s not the first time they’ve brought art to the peninsula.

Both Grillo and Jorge have long been involved in the art culture of Rockaway. Some may know Grillo for her work on the bus stop murals along Shore Front Parkway and the Roxbury 9/11 Memorial. Jorge was heavily involved with the Rockaway Artists Alliance, having obtained several grants for the organization, establishing educational programs like camp kidSmART and having served as vice president. Both previously worked together on a 14 Sculptors exhibit in Highbridge Park in Manhattan and they wanted to bring a splash of art to the place they live.

Grillo says 14 Sculptors Inc. first brought an exhibition to Fort Tilden about 20 years ago. “This will be the second major exhibition that 14 Sculptors has brought to the Rockaways. We really pushed for this because we’re trying hard to make Rockaway the best it can be and to bring people from all over the boroughs, the country and the world to Rockaway to explore this jewel that has been hidden for so long,” Grillo said. “We really want people to have an appreciation for the arts and to change the perception of those who are unaware of the beauty of Rockaway. Rockaway is undergoing a renaissance and this is part of the recovery after Sandy and it’s a celebration of the beauty and spirit of the area,” Jorge said.

About 13 months ago, Grillo and Jorge collaborated with the Department of Parks and Recreation to start bringing this idea to life. They applied for grants to fund the project and received backing from the Queens Council on the Arts, the NY Foundation for the Arts, the Partnership for Parks and the Puffin Foundation. They also decided to span the exhibit from Beach 74th to Beach 108th Street along Shore Front Parkway due to its central location on the peninsula. “We wanted those on both the east and west ends to have access to this public art,” Jorge said.

They also had the tough job of seeking out artists that could capture the beauty and spirit of Rockaway with their pieces. They wound up choosing 16 artists for the project. Some are newbies, some highly experienced, some are locals, and others from all over. “We reached out to a diverse group of artists from all over. We felt it was important to bring in artists from the area and beyond,” Jorge said. “We like to give different artists opportunities to display their work because exhibiting sculpture is very difficult. We wanted to bring in artists from 14 Sculptors and others that were recommended so that they could display their art in a public space,” Grillo said. “We not only have diversity among our artists, but diversity of medium as well. There’s everything from metal to wood, resin, acrylic, carved work, upcycled material and more,” Jorge said. Both Grillo and Jorge’s works are among the 17 pieces. Grillo’s “Rock Relics” incorporates pieces of Rockaway’s history including a piece of the actual chain from the Playland rollercoaster, Stars of David from the Ohab Zedek Synagogue, and pieces of the old wooden boardwalk. Jorge’s piece, “The Last Mermaid” incorporates upcycled material, like plastic bags and bottles, to send a message about the impact that left-behind trash has on marine life. The other artists include Herb Rosenberg, Stan Squirewell, Bibiana Huang Matheis, Carl Rattner, Allan Cyprys, Siena Gillann Porta, Dan Bergman, Anne Stanner, Bayete Ross Smith, Febrications, Chuck von Schmidt, Sui Park, and Carmen and Laura Frank.

Residents got a sneak peak at some of the work as it started being installed last week. The works peaked the curiosity of man and there were initial mixed reviews. “We wanted people to have an appreciation for different types of work. Some pieces, people will love, and others they won’t, just like some like Picasso and others prefer Rembrandt," Jorge said. “That’s what we were hoping to do. We wanted the art to stimulate interest and start conversations,” Grillo said.

The pieces will continue to be installed over the next few weeks, just in time for the opening celebration event on Saturday, June 3. Details of the opening are still in the works, but the event will be held at 12:30 p.m. at the Beach 94th Street Plaza.  The opening won’t be the only big event in coordination with the exhibit. There will be various programs held throughout its end run on October 9, when the pieces will be removed. Some of the events include bike tours, arts and crafts, hip hop dancing, yoga, sunset photography, talks on Rockaway’s history from historians like James Supple and Marty Nislick, health and wellness programs and much more. “As a strong believer in education, I wanted to have a calendar of different events that are connected to this exhibit,” Jorge said. A full calendar will be available as the events are established and will be accessible at www.14Sculptors.com or by calling 718-945-3131.

“This exhibit is going to be an exciting way to celebrate all the good new things in Rockaway, like the boardwalk being finished and the ferry. We’re excited to bring art to our own backyard that will celebrate the beauty and spirit of Rockaway,” Jorge said.

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