By Carlotta Mohamed
Bell Boulevard may be known for its eclectic collection of diverse restaurants and bars. Pretty soon, it may also become the next creative hub for arts and entertainment.
Saying there was a huge need and desire for something cultural in the community, Gregg Sullivan’s three-year vision of bringing an art center to Bayside is becoming a reality.
“We’re in the business of giving the community back to itself and revitalizing the boulevard for the neighborhood that lives around it with education, an exhibition, and creativity,” said Sullivan, a Bayside native with a background in film and TV production.
Next month, the Bayside Center for the Arts, located at 41-43 Bell Blvd., will be opening its doors to the community with a digital studio, art gallery, and performance theater.
Sullivan started cleaning up the six-year-old, 3,000-square-foot vacated space that was once occupied by Benjamin Moore Paint in mid-July. He and his crew have steam cleaned the front of the building, redesigned the floors and installed new lights, said Sullivan.
“It’s an exhibition hall to exhibit local artists, painters, photographers, but also to showcase musicians, writers, and to bring events from the outside that people can come to enjoy,” said Sullivan.
The front half of the art center will hold a gallery space, featuring ever-changing exhibits from local artists. In the back, there is a 70-seat theater for shows from local musicians, comedians and other performers.
In addition to showcasing local as well as outside artists, Sullivan said the most exciting part about the art center is the ability for people to create their own art.
“We now live in a world where people are making their YouTube videos and their own video blogs,” said Sullivan. “We’re giving that opportunity for people and artists to come to Bayside, and we’re giving them all of the facilities they need: cameras, microphones, lighting and green screens.”
According to Sullivan, there may be a nominal fee to use the equipment, and he is hoping to subsidize most of the local artists depending on how successful he is with finding sponsors for the art center. He currently has four cornerstone corporate sponsors and 15 small sponsors for the individual events at the art center.
Sullivan spent 10 years as a technical director for “CBS News” in Manhattan before relocating to Los Angeles to start his own film studio. He returned in 2005 to care for his ill mother and realized that the once thriving Bayside community had become “depressed” with no street fairs or arts/crafts festivals.
His efforts to revitalize Bayside and many closed storefronts with “For Rent” signs along Bell Boulevard came from a town hall meeting with local residents, business owners, and real estate owners, who were asked what the community needed.
One resident’s response stayed with him: “Make Bayside relevant again.”
After Sullivan started “Bayside Live TV” in March 2012, a community web TV channel chronicling local news, events and personalities, he tested out the concept of an art center last year that became a hit, based on the strong response from locals.
“There are feasibility studies that show clearly that the presence of an art center in the community is a huge boost in the local economy and a quality-of-life issue,” he said.
According to Sullivan, to help revive Bell Boulevard, he recently decided to move the art center to different vacant retail spaces to attract new businesses, which could become a huge economic development in the community.
“Wherever we move from any different space from Bell Boulevard, we’ll be having events even sometimes in multiple spaces where we’ll have seminars in one space, the green screen and production in another,” said Sullivan. “We can be an entertainment, education and technology row as well as being a world class restaurant row.”
Sullivan said he has scheduled the Broadway cast of “Desperate Measures” to perform at Bayside, so people won’t have to spend a fortune to go into Manhattan. He hopes outsiders will take the train again to Bell Boulevard and locals will come out to experience theater in Bayside.
“It feels like we’ve found a dead flower, and we’ve watered it and brought it back to life,” said Sullivan. “People are happy something cool is happening at Bayside again.”
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha