2014-04-04 / Community

Beautify Rockaway Paints The Town

By Dan Guarino

Rockaway has always had a strong artistic streak. A new project, Beautify Rockaway Beach, a part of Beautify Earth, is making its mark by creating murals to bring new color and energy to the peninsula.

On Saturday, April 12, at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, Beach 87th Street and the Rockaway Freeway, they will be hosting a fundraiser to keep the project going. Art, live music and drinks will come together from 8 p.m. to midnight. Admission is charged.

Online donations can be made at beautifyearth.org/beautify-rockaways/.

Coordinated by Josh Manes and Matt Villetto, the project’s first work is the mural “Lady Sings The Blues” on Sayra’s Wine Bar, painted by artist Alice Mizrachi.

The next project will be a work by artist Alice Pasquini at the former Ocean Pizza, on the corner of Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 97th Street.

Recently Villetto and Manes spoke with The Wave about themselves and Beautify Rockaway Beach.

“My background is in real estate on the development side so I understand and see the influences that can shape and create positive change for a neighborhood,” Villetto said. “My great grandmother was a very successful artist so I was surrounded by great art growing up. My wife introduced me to Rockaway and we saw a great deal of potential for the neighborhood and bought a place and settled down here. This was pre-Sandy.”

Manes added, “I’m an architect working for a firm in NYC. I’m also a musician and designer. My mother painted and my father sculpted so I’ve been around art from an early age. As an architect I’ve seen how building planning can change environments. A good building in the right context could improve the public perception and inspire whole communities.

“A mural could take a few days to make a positive change at a much lower expense.”

Talking about how Beautify Earth began, Manes continued, “My business partner and close friend, Evan Meyer, started ‘Beautify Lincoln’ over a year ago,” referring to Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica, California. “The first project started by him simply walking into a café and asking to paint the side of the wall. After a dozen murals later, he and I brainstormed about doing this in different cities.

“After a few walls went up, Matt Villetto found out about us online then reached out to me.”

Villetto recalled, “The name, Beautify Earth, really grabbed me and I felt the need to connect with them. To be honest, I was sick of looking at the condition of our streets, destroyed homes, vacant storefronts, missing boardwalk, and asked myself, how can I make a positive change now? We can’t wait on the government; we have to be creative and find ways to uplift the spirit of our community.”

“Beautify Earth is a grassroots city beautification nonprofit that is constantly evolving in its project scope. So far we have been involved with murals, street cleanups, art education, and public space planning and our roles are expanding,”

Manes said.

Talking about how that applies to Rockaway, Villetto explained, “This will be another reason for people to visit the Rockaways, bring back old businesses, bring in new, and elevate the pedestrian experience by bringing life and energy into our streets.

“This (makes) our neighborhood unique and is a piece of the puzzle that puts the Rockaways back on the map.”

Manes noted, “We know that a pretty mural does not compare to rebuilding a house or repairing vital infrastructure, but it does create a point of interest that could inspire community members and bring positive change to an otherwise neglected wall. On Rockaway Beach we are looking to cover Rockaway Beach Boulevard between Beach 90th and 100th and beyond…”

“My motto for the project is ‘Inspiration is Contagious,’” Villetto says.

“It’s grass roots, so hopefully it will nspire more people to get involved. They will have our full support.

“With a small investment, relatively speaking, we can make a profound impact, both social and economic, on the neighborhood.

“We also want to create ‘Welcome to The Rockaways’ and ‘Come Back Soon’ murals on the natural archways created by the elevated train tracks on Beach 95th Street as you arrive and leave the peninsula via the Cross Bay Bridge. That experience would be memorable.”

Beautify Rockaway Beach is partnering with other groups, like the Rockaway Artists Alliance, Hearts of the World, Rockaway Beach Civic Association, BKC Studio in Red Hook and Treesny.org, among others.

In Rockaway “So far we …painted Sayra’s and (people) have been very supportive about the Billy Holiday wall by Alice Mizrachi,” Manes said. “While (she) was painting the mural, passersby would stop by to view and comment. They would tell us to keep up the good work so we feel that validates what we’re doing here.”

For business areas Manes notes the effect has been a positive one. As reported in the LA Times, one Los Angeles business, Metropolitan Cleaners, saw a 20 percent increase in business after the artwork went up.

Villetto says at first “the hardest part is/was getting some of the building owners /tenants to buy into the project. They wanted to know ‘What’s the angle? Wait you’re not getting paid for this?’ Once we explained the greater good this project will have on the community and their businesses, they would come around.”

“We have some extremely talented and amazing artists that we are so humbled by their enthusiasm… Artists have been excited to collaborate on this project. For a lot of the artists they have fond memories of the Rockaways and would like to give back a little some thing to the neighborhood.

“We present different concepts and artists to the owners and tenants and they decide.”

As far their goals for Beautify Rockaway Beach, Villetto says, “we have a real opportunity to create something special that will become a destination for visitors, which means more people in the streets, more patrons for local businesses, and positive economic change: the end goal. The art provokes thought, it surprises you as you walk down the street, it could change one’s perspective for the day or outlook on life, turn a frown into a smile, and then that person, whose outlook has changed, could influence someone else they encounter that day or in life. The positive change has a domino effect with the potential to impact so many people.”

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