Kew Gardens outdoor art exhibition brings hope to community

Banners on Lefferts Blvd.4
Photo by William Jackson

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic two residents of Kew Gardens – Carol Lacks and Tony Mavilia — asked the question: “What can two people do to lift the spirits of their neighbors, help the area’s struggling shop owners, and showcase the incredibly talented residents who live here?” 

With a love for the arts, Lacks and Mavilia, of the Kew Gardens Council for Recreation in the Arts, came up with the solution of creating an outdoor art exhibition, “Here, There and Everywhere: Artists of Kew Gardens.”

About 45 weatherproof vinyl banners will line the streets of the neighborhood’s abandoned shop fronts and disused fences and gates in the neighborhood’s business area on the Lefferts Boulevard bridge and between Austin and Grenfell streets. 

Mavilia, who is the art director, and Lacks, the project coordinator, began hanging up the 2 ½-by-4-foot banners along the street on July 10, and they say people are becoming very attached to the display. 

Tony Mavilia and Carol Lacks hang up banners on closed storefronts along Lefferts Boulevard. Photo by William Jackson

“Carol and I every year put on an art event in Kew Gardens and we knew that with the pandemic we couldn’t have an event where crowds of people got together like they usually do, so we started talking about what we could do to promote art and to give people something to look forward to in the community,” Mavilia told QNS. 

The exhibit features works by 57 local artists, including 22 children — with the youngest among them debuting their artwork at just 4 years old. 

Banners along Grenfell Street. Photo by William Jackson

Lacks and Mavilia hope the artwork will entice people out of their homes, give them a reason to take a stroll in the village area and see the amazing art — which just happens to be by friends and neighbors they pass on the street.

Oil and acrylic on canvas, lithography, sculpture, watercolor on paper, photography and computer generated imagery all find their place in the show. 

Styles range from almost photographic realism to highly abstract photography with many stops in between: realism, impressionism, primitivism, photo collage and fantasy. Home, or as far from home as the artist could get, represent the range of interests and imagery. All of the artists have one thing in common: the certainty that personal expression is a necessity and sharing with it others is essential.

Carol Lacks with her photograph “Friends for the Road Friends for the Journey.” Photo by William Jackson

For Mavilia and Lacks, the art exhibition gives a feeling of hope during a challenging time period. 

“It gives a feeling that there’s some life in the community — that we’re not looking at the main downtown area as shut down and grimey,” Mavilia said. “We literally see it: people stop and look at the work and they smile. They send us emails about it, so it’s giving people something to think about other than COVID and the leader of our country.” 

Tony Mavilia with his photocomposition “Women of Burano.” Photo by William Jackson

This year, due to the COVID-19 health crisis, all of Kew Gardens Arts events were canceled and the organization was given an opportunity to create new programs with social distancing protocols. 

Kew Gardens residents will not have Kew Gardens Community Arts Day to enjoy this year, but they will be able to safely walk around the streets of Kew Gardens to experience the outdoor art exhibition. 

Photo by William Jackson

The art initiatives were funded by New York City Council grants awarded to the Kew Gardens Council for Recreation and the Arts, Inc. by Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz and Citizens Committee for NYC Neighborhood Grants awarded to the Kew Gardens Improvement Association Inc., according to Lacks, who expressed great gratitude to their funders.  

Both organizations have been supporting and advocating for the community for over 50 years. 

According to Mavilia, they’re planning on creating an e-catalogue of the work that they can mail to participants and other people. 

“Each artist wrote a statement about their work, so when the e-catalogue goes out people will be able to read the statement,” Mavilia said. “There are also essays as part of the e-book.” 

In the meantime, residents can enjoy the outdoor art exhibition until Sept. 21.

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