Kew Gardens outdoor art exhibit returns with colorful, hopeful and interactive artwork

The Street Banner Project is a follow-up to the first banner show, “Here, There and Everywhere: Art in Kew Gardens,” that was born in July 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy of Carol Lacks)

Amy Handy, an artist and freelance book editor, was excited to hear that the Kew Gardens outdoor art exhibition was returning for another show this year featuring local artists in the community. 

For this year’s show, Handy’s creation is a painting on canvas with small sound objects that was printed onto a large vinyl banner accompanied by a piece of poetry that can be seen in the “Kew Gardens Streets: Where Art and Poetry Met” exhibition on the Lefferts Boulevard bridge and between Austin and Grenfell streets. 

Amy Handy’s painting on canvas incorporates small sound objects depicting a fantasy landscape. (Courtesy of Handy)

“Having the art up on those facades really does help to add some color and life to the community,” Handy said. “Wherever art can be displayed in the community, it gives people something to look at and think about.” 

Handy is one of 33 local artists to participate in the multimedia exhibition which incorporates images, words and sound to engage and delight residents and passersby. The street banner project, which also includes works from 16 children, opened on April 25, and will remain in place for the remainder of 2021. 

The project is sponsored by a New York City Council grant awarded by Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz to the Kew Gardens Council for Recreation and the Arts. The show is a follow-up to the first banner show, “Here, There and Everywhere: Art in Kew Gardens,” which was born in July 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

(Courtesy of Carol Lacks)

It was a time of loss, separation, anxiety, fear and economic stress when many shops on Lefferts Boulevard and Grenfell Street in Kew Gardens were shuttered or vacant, and residents could not gather to enjoy the community’s annual art activities, according to project coordinators Carol Lacks and Tony Mavilia, of the Kew Gardens Council for Recreation in the Arts. 

Every year, Mavilia and Lacks would organize an art event in Kew Gardens bringing together friends and families, but when the pandemic hit and people were in quarantine, they began to think about what they can do to promote art and give residents something to look forward to in the community. 

Together, Lacks and Mavilia came up with the idea of displaying public artwork on abandoned shop fronts and disused fences and gates in the neighborhood’s business area. Oil and acrylic on canvas, lithography, sculpture, watercolor on paper, photography and computer-generated imagery were on display in the show. Styles ranged from almost photographic realism to highly abstract photography with many stops in between: realism, impressionism, primitivism, photo collage and fantasy. 

“That was our first time and it was really popular,” Mavilia said. “We said it would be a summer show and when we were going to take it down in September, people in the community told us to not take it down.”

Lacks, whose artwork is also featured in the exhibition, said the first project — featuring a range of professional artists and homemakers who like to make art — had a tremendous impact on the residents. 

“Emotional places were depicted that people can go to — the beach, boating, nature, ice cream parlors, the Catskills,” Lacks said. “Everyday things that people are familiar with were depicted in the exhibit.” 

Carol Lacks’ banner “Unisphere Photograph” (Courtesy of Lacks)

When the Kew Gardens Council for Recreation and the Arts received another grant for the following year, Mavilia and Lacks thought about how they could do the show again, but in a different way. 

For the second project, Lacks and Mavilia were interested in color, introspection, hope, legacy, nature and reflection. 

“This time we enlisted artists and poets and we asked the artists to submit work, but to also think about poetry that would resonate with their work,” Mavilia said. “We also created QR codes printed on the banner so that people could listen to the music [and] poetry on their phones.” 

The kids’ artwork is hung on lower fences along the street, while the banners are hung on the storefronts. According to Mavilia, they have been receiving positive feedback from residents about the banners. 

(Courtesy of Carol Lacks)

“They enjoy it and find it uplifting — some people find it calming or consoling. They also say that it makes the neighborhood look more alive, and not an abandoned neighborhood,” Mavilia said. “Sometimes we will walk by and see people taking selfies in front of the banners, and it’s just great to see it.” 

Although the outdoor exhibition has been a success, Lacks said they are unsure about whether they will continue hanging the artwork in the future, due to the fact that stores could possibly be rented. 

“It’s really up in the air to what’s going up in the world and what’s going on in Metropolitan Avenue,” Lacks said. “We are hopeful that the stores are rented, because it means the community is back and growing, and people wouldn’t need the comfort of the banners as much also.” 

According to Brad Marshall, who has been a working artist his entire life, many artists suffered a great deal in the past year losing their livelihood. For this year’s outdoor exhibition, Marshall’s painting — the skybridge that was disabled by Madison Park — is accompanied by a song lyric from “Don’t Wait Too Long” by Irving Berlin. 

Kew Gardens artist Brad Marshall and his oil on canvas painting, “Sky Bridge.” (Courtesy of Marshall)

“You couldn’t perform and for visual artists like me, no one could go into the galleries,” Marshall said. “Sometimes people react, saying why are you spending money on art? But then again, when people bypass public art, it makes the environment so much better. It’s important to have artwork around to support artists.”