Jackson Heights artist helps seniors transform defunct parking meters into art

Jackson Heights artist Conrad Stojak is working with Seniors in Astoria to create the largest public art project in New York City.
Photos courtesy of Conrad Stojak

Jackson Heights-based artist is aiming to create the largest citywide arts project and has enlisted the help of seniors to achieve his goal.

Conrad Stojak, a Jackson Heights-based artist, began upcycling old parking meters in 2014. He ran across discarded meters one night and realized he could turn them into an art project by adding miniature dioramas into the domes. Stojak began taking nightly trips to install the dioramas and documented his work through photographs.

His excursions paid off when Larry Silverstein, developer of One World Trade Center, came across Stojak’s installation of a replica of the tower. The artist now operates out of a studio space on the 67th floor of the building, which was granted to him by Silverstein.

Stojak also teaches a photography class at the Hellenic American Neighborhood Action Committee’s (HANAC) Harmony JVL Innovative Senior Center in Astoria. HANAC, a service organization that was founded by a Greek-American in 1972, operates several senior centers in Astoria and one in College Point.

He started incorporating his parking meter project into his classes, located at 27-40 Hoyt Avenue South, last October and has worked with his students to paint the relics and use them as flower pots.

“They love the idea of upcycling,” Stojak said. “They are the  last generation that’s going to remember parking meters as a standalone kind of unit. [We] take something old and make it new again.”

Though Stojak uses spray paint to decorate his parking meters, it is too noxious to use in his classroom. Instead, his students use acrylic paint to decorate the meters with flowers. Stojak uses a spray to go over their creations with a coating to keep the paint long-lasting and weather proof.

Eventually, the class will install the parking meters outside of the senior center and begin planting flowers during spring and summer months. For now, students are growing “durable, healthy” house plants inside the meters, Stojak said.

Alice Jaworsky, 70, has been a student in Stojak’s photography class since July 2014. She had no prior photography experience but credits her teacher with sparking in her a deep interest in the art form.

“It was a challenge to learn something new, but under Conrad’s guidance, I excelled,” Jaworsky said.

Jaworsky said she was not surprised to learn of Stojak’s “unique” undertaking.

“He is truly a pioneer as no one else has tried to glorify New York City in such a unique manner,” Jaworsky said. “He will truly go down in the art history books. And then I can say I knew him.”

The Department of Transportation, Department of Citywide Administrative Services and a depot in Maspeth have all donated the discarded meters to Stojak for his project. He also ran a successful crowd funding initiative to purchase robotic parts, which will enable him to continue creating solar-powered and Wi-Fi equipped meters.

Smart phone users will be able to manipulate each scene inside of the meters he creates.

“My ultimate goal is to replant hundreds of these meters across the city as works of art,” Stojak said.