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Courtesy of Wylie Goodman
A poster for the Ridgewood Art Extravaganza designed by a GRYC participant and featuring artwork from Raynelda Calderon.

A group of Ridgewood youth will help showcase local artists while raising awareness about the vacant storefronts on the neighborhood’s commercial corridors this weekend at the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District’s (BID) Fall Street Festival.

The Sept. 23 festival will feature “The Ridgewood Art Extravaganza,” an exhibit showcasing work from local artists through a partnership between the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council (GRYC) and the Myrtle Avenue BID. The exhibit is the second phase of a $5,000 grant awarded to the GRYC by Enterprise Community Partners, a national nonprofit that fosters collaborative action between community development organizations.

The grant — one of only 10 awarded nationwide — was written and is led by local urban planner Wylie Goodman, who said the group is working locally to highlight a citywide matter.

“The issue of vacant storefronts and the lack of affordable space for artists and small entrepreneurs is one that nearly every neighborhood in New York City is facing,” Goodman said. “My hope is that by bringing stakeholders together, among them youth, artists, building and business owners and civic leaders, we can brainstorm solutions tailored to our community.”

During the first phase of the project earlier this summer, nine high school students in the GRYC’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) began documenting the businesses along Myrtle Avenue. The students learned about how “creative placemaking” can be used to make streetscapes more inviting, Goodman said, and they ultimately identified nearly 20 vacant storefronts between Fresh Pond Road and Wyckoff Avenue.

In addition, the students pointed out the most represented businesses along the corridor in an effort to suggest more diverse uses of the vacant spaces, such as pop-up shops and galleries. They also met with Myrtle Avenue BID Executive Director Ted Renz and Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano to learn how civic leadership plays an important role in their project.

“When we did our Myrtle Avenue Market Analysis three years ago, one of the goals was to get a better store mix and to match the needs of the community,” said Renz. “We’re therefore happy to collaborate with the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council on this venture.”

“The Ridgewood Art Extravaganza,” a name that the students came up with, will be located on Myrtle Avenue between Onderdonk Avenue and Forest Avenue during the festival from noon to 6 p.m. Along with showcasing local artwork, the students will be there to provide art activities for kids and engage the community in a survey and voting board where people can share ideas for the types of businesses they would like to see in the area.

“The SYEP participants enjoyed working on this innovative project,” said Janine Mahon, chief operating officer for education and programs at the GRYC. “They increased their understanding of the community in which they live, and experienced firsthand how working together can create positive change in their community.”

Artists to be featured in the exhibit include Raynelda Calderon, Mari Corona, Mica Miragliotta, Marco Valle and Nichole van Beek.

The ultimate goal of the grant program is to identify building owners who are willing to rent vacant storefronts to local artists or entrepreneurs for short- or long-term use. The third phase — a facilitated dinner and focus group for community members — is being planned for early November with support from the Ridgewood Savings Bank.

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