by Kathleen Reckling, Deputy Director of Public Programs at ArtsWestchester
This past summer, when Ridge Hill Shopping Center, Yonkers’ shopping and entertainment destination, was planning its phased reopening, it looked to long-time partner ArtsWestchester for a different approach. With gatherings on pause and new vacancies to address, “Outdoor Art 2020” emerged as an arts-infused strategy for welcoming shoppers and diners back to the property. The project, which includes murals, signage and expanded pedestrian spaces, offers replicable models for businesses, Business Improvement Districts and Main Streets that are rethinking how to differentiate themselves during a time when outdoor space is so critical to economic sustainability and community development.
Market Street is Ridge Hill’s main artery. However, to allow for better social distancing, the property converted the majority of this roadway into a pedestrian zone. Restaurants gained more outdoor space for seating and shoppers could more easily practice distancing guidelines on the widened walkway.
By October 2020, the project had added four new murals and a series of banners to an existing collection of public art. There are plans for future murals and informative artist-designed signage still to come.
The first art project unveiled as part of “Outdoor Art 2020” was designed to transform the airspace above the new pedestrian zone. ArtsWestchester invited local artists to submit designs that would be produced as banners and installed on lamp posts along Market Street. Yonkers artist Alfredo Ponce won the competitive selection process, and his collection of works, titled Community, were unveiled in July.
Murals became a colorful and hopeful solution to new vacancies on the property. Empty storefronts that were boarded up with plywood were transformed into exuberant destinations, emblazoned with colorful designs and messages like “Welcome.” Muralists include Andrea von Bujdoss and Danielle Mastrion. Planters painted by White Plains artist Ann Ladd through an earlier collaboration between Ridge Hill and ArtsWestchester dot the sidewalks with color and seasonal plantings.
“Outdoor Art 2020” features original temporary and permanent artworks by Hudson Valley artists that enliven the streetscape, promote a safe environment and bring shoppers back to the space. Public art is a tried and tested economic driver. Successful examples include Wynwood in Miami and Bushwick, Brooklyn. Barricades around sidewalk dining nooks, vacant storefronts, lamp posts and utility boxes are just some of the blank canvases that offer opportunities for artists to create moments of joy for businesses and their patrons…and one might say a little joy is good for business.
A version of this article first appeared in the December-January issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNewsis distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.