Merchants Embrace Art to Give Smith Street a Boost
Unveiling a vibrant storefront mural, property owners and entrepreneurs hope to kickstart the retail corridor's revival
By STEPHEN KOEPP - November 6, 2018
Heidi Cunnick, a leader of the Court-Smith BID effort, at a celebration of the mural's completion (Photo by Steve Koepp)
Smith Street needs a lift. The once-thriving restaurant row of more than a decade ago has suffered from a double whammy of economic factors in recent years—rising rents and listless foot traffic—that have left it with empty storefronts and a sometimes lackluster vibe.
But last week a jolt of energy arrived in the form of a vibrant mural spanning three empty storefronts on the block between Douglass and Degraw streets. Bursting with dreamlike scenes celebrating the borough’s history and diversity, “In Unity There Is Strength” is the work of Argentinian street artist Magda Love, who was commissioned by a nearby art center, The Invisible Dog, and a neighborhood group seeking to establish a Business Improvement District (BID) for the area.
City Council Member Brad Lander does the honors at the ribbon cutting. Said he: “People are going to enjoy it as they walk by. It animates our neighborhood, as public art does” (Photo by Steve Koepp)
“We recognize that we have an issue with these vacancies because we get these little strips of blight. So we looked for an imaginative way to break the cycle,” said Heidi Cunnick, co-chair of the steering committee for the Court-Smith BID Formation Effort, as the mural was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting. The group hopes that the creation of the mural is a persuasive demonstration of the kinds of projects a BID could undertake to brighten and promote the retail corridor, drawing in more visitors from the neighborhood and beyond.
“We can’t just depend on the community here. We need to make it a destination,” said Dawn Casale, a co-chair of the BID committee and co-owner of One Girl Cookies, which opened its Dean Street shop in 2006 and has since expanded to Dumbo and Industry City. Unlike some other Brooklyn neighborhoods, which lure visitors to a waterfront or park, she said, Smith Street lacks a particular drawing card. “We need to create something else, and our vision of that is art,” Casale said, given the still-high population of artists in the neighborhood.
In the last several years, Smith Street merchants have blamed declining pedestrian traffic for slowing revenues. Casale agrees, attributing the trend to several demographic factors beyond just the impact of e-commerce. “The makeup of the neighborhood has changed dramatically,” she said. One trend is the conversion of multi-family town houses into single-family homes, decreasing the population density, she said. Another is the increasing number of two-income families, she said, in which the parents tend to want to spend more time on activities with their kids and less time shopping.
Muralist Love strives to raise consciousness about social and environmental issues (Photo by Kathi Littwin)
The BID effort began in 2014 as a small group of volunteers, Cunnick said. Around that time, a wave of pioneering Smith Street stores and restaurants were shutting down, inspiring headlines like “The Rise and Fall of Smith Street.” Even as the overall neighborhood has become more prosperous, the proliferation of empty storefrontsand the arrival of more national chain stores have put a damper on Smith Street’s DIY spirit. Court Street, meanwhile, where commercial rents are higher, has attracted a superabundance of real-estate offices.
The mission of the BID would be to promote a healthy mix of businesses by making the streets cleaner, greener, and more vibrant. A BID is a public-private partnership in which property owners within the district pay an assessment on their tax bill each year. The proposed Court-Smith BID, which would include those two streets between Pacific Street and Second Place, has an estimated annual budget of $700,000. In an example cited by the BID group, a Class A commercial property with a 20-ft. storefront would pay an annual assessment of about $1,090.
The money raised would be spent on sanitation, maintenance, beautification, community marketing and other benefits for the merchants and property owners. As the neighborhood blog Pardon Me for Asking has pointed out, the sidewalks of Court and Smith streets would benefit from more attention to trash collection.
Love (on ladder) putting the finishing touches on her mural (Photo by Kathi Littwin)
City Council Member Brad Lander, whose district includes a large portion of the proposed BID, performed the ceremonial ribbon-cutting and called for more help for small retail businesses.
“Running a small business in New York—boy, it’s got to be a labor of love to navigate all these challenges,” he told the small crowd. “We’re not doing enough as a city to show up for our small business people. That’s a loss for us as much as for them. Small commercial strips are what give our city its character.”
THE BRIDGE NEWSLETTER
SIGN UP FOR BROOKLYN BUSINESS NEWS
Zach Owens, manager of the BID programfor the Small Business Services department, said the city now has 75 BIDs up and running. They represent 93,000 businesses and annual investment of $148 million. While the city provides support services for the BIDs, as does the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, their creation depends on enough local property owners and commercial tenants signing up to pay for them. “It has to be a community-led effort. It’s a bottom-up approach,” said Owens.
“People think we [already] have a BID but are not doing a very good job,” observed Cunnick. She and her colleagues hope their ebullient mural helps rally support for their proposal so they can get their long-proposed BID up and running.
Steve Koepp is the editor of The Bridge. Previously, he was editorial director of Time Inc. Books, executive editor of Fortune and deputy managing editor of Time.
Friday November 2nd 2018 12pm - 2pm. Come celebrate this beautiful contribution to the neighborhood.
Court-Smith BID Formation Effort and the Invisible Dog Art Center are thrilled to join forces and present a commissioned site-specific art installation by NYC-based artist Magda Love, named ‘In Unity There is Strength’.
In a permanent and common effort to revitalize Smith street and the neighborhood, these two local and active organizations have offered curatorial advice, space and financial support to the artist in order to create a unique mural made up of 6 monumental panels displayed from 250 to 254 Smith street.
A ribbon cutting to introduce the mural to the public will be held on November 2, 2018 at 12PM. The BID Formation Effort Steering Committee will lead the event along with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, and will welcome New York City council member Brad Lander as well as the artist, gallery owner and local area businesses.
In a thoughtful statement, artist Magda Love speaks about her project:
“This mural wishes to celebrate the history and the heritage of our beloved borough. A visual ode to Brooklyn, to their residents that come and have been coming since the 1800s from all different parts of the globe. Our neighborhoods filled of joy and stories of unity, diversity, and community has made Brooklyn a beautiful, unique place to live and to visit. Its residents have been enjoying learning about each other, becoming more cultured, more loving, more united, more engaged in their communities. We know our strength is diversity.
This art piece is a homage to the beautiful and rich legacy of our communities, our landmarks, our parks, our coastlines. Brooklyn has earned a very special place in the hearts of its residents, and I am honored to celebrate through public arts how fortunate I am to call again, Brooklyn, my home.”
‘In Unity There is Strength’ by artist Magda Love is in viewing until the end of the year with possible extension.
Magda Love is a talented artist and a determined social activist. Her vibrant paintings and murals aim to inspire people to recognize the value in shared personal experience and emotional connectivity. Based between New York and Miami, Magda literally paints the town. When she’s not toppling large walls you can find her beautifying smaller white ones, in some of the world’s most interesting galleries.
Magda’s unique perspective and thirst for colorful expression is rooted firmly in her upbringing in Argentina. With a school teacher mother and a sculptor father, the give and take between learning and teaching was ingrained, as was the necessity and majesty of personal expression. Magda Love’s prodigious output and ever-blossoming talent continue to flourish. In 2015 she was invited to give a mural painting demonstration on stage at TedX Fulton Street. She is currently working to finish the largest mural in NYC history.
Magda Love utilizes her work to promote love and community. She is determined to raise about social and environmental issues. She has worked with organizations such as Street Art for Mankind where she was selected to speak at the United Nations headquarters to share her experience while working with sex trafficking victims in Cambodia as part of Together 1 Heart and Beauty for Freedom. She is an ongoing collaborator with educational institutions such as City As School-High School, where she teaches workshops and mentors students. Her myriad of public and private murals includes recent shows at the iconic Extra Butter gallery on the Lower East Side and landmark South Street Seaport.
Magda Love has been awarded with multiple residences such as the Gowanus Print Lab in Brooklyn and Graffiti World in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. She was also a selected artist by the Rockaway Artist Alliance, in partnership with MOMA Ps1 and National Endowment of the Arts, to create a mural at Fort Tilden National Park. Love was recently featured in a new series Red Bull Documentaries Mavens, focusing on inspiring narratives of powerful influencer women making marks in their communities through the realms of arts and entertainment.
Magda Love’s work has been featured in Gothamist, MTV, MSN Latino, NY Ink, Red Bull TV, Complex Magazine, The Source Magazine, Mass Appeal, Vibe, Hypebeast, TimeOutNY, Bustle, Juxtapoz, Artnews, Brooklyn Street Art, 12oz Prophet, Street Art NYC, Sun Sentinel, Miami Art Scene, Miami New Tiems and many others, as well as the documentary films Artphibia, 12 Canvasses and Art is Life.
More about Magda Love: http://magdalove.nyc/
Gallery of Photos showing this project in process:
Court-Smith BID Formation Effort is a group of local property owners, business owners, and residents who have banded together in order to establish a Business Improvement District on Court and Smith streets in the Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens neighborhoods of Brooklyn. BIDs exist all across New York City in order to deliver services above and beyond what are provided by the City. A BID along Court and Smith streets will help create a cleaner, better cared for, more vibrant, festive, greener and safer neighborhood. Your support is crucial to establishing the BID so that we may continue to have a positive impact on our neighborhood for years to come. Learn more at www.courtsmithbid.com
The Invisible Dog Art Center opened in October 2009, a raw space in a vast converted factory building with a charmed history and an open-ended mission: to create, from the ground up, a new kind of interdisciplinary arts center. Over the last two years, over 50,000 people have attended our events: visual arts exhibits, dance, theater and music performances, film screenings, literary arts and poetry readings, lectures and community events. Invisible Dog is also the work space of 27 artists in residence.
The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce is the largest and fastest-growing Chamber of Commerce in New York. It was named 2017 Chamber of the Year by the Business Council of New York State. The Chamber promotes economic development across the borough and serves as an advocate for its member businesses. Its mission is to promote a healthy and robust business environment throughout Brooklyn. The Chamber celebrated its centennial in 2018.
Contacts Press – Information
Saloni Sharma - Acting Director, Court-Smith BID Formation Effort
The Invisible Dog Art Center
Lucien Zayan, Director
The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
Meredith Daniels - Vice President, Communications
At a recent Build a Block meeting, Officers Ruggiero & Sy of the 84th Precinct gave a lecture on Counterfeit cash, security measures and domestic violence.
The images below are from a most helpful handout that I wanted to share. A few moments of attention can stop the flow of counterfeit cash at your business.
We'd love to see you here.
Bastille Day on Smith Street is a highlight on the summer calendar. There are actually two celebrations, one in front of Bar Tabac and the other down the street a bit at Provence en Boite. Both have live music, delicious food & beverages and they both even have petanque tournaments. The streets are alive with everyone enjoying a summer day. It's fun to watch the games or hang with friends. We'll see you next year, n'est pas?
Sunday was the scene for the annual Smith Street Fair sponsored by South Brooklyn Local Development Corporation. There was something for everyone. Hungry? They had crepes, Italian and German Sausages, empanadas, grilled corn, arepas, Paella, fruits and refreshing beverages. Wanna shop? There were dresses, straw hats, baskets, jewelry, trinkets, flowers and bonsai, T-shirts, rugs and if that wasn't enough live music and cocktails. The Textile Arts Center had a silkscreen display and other crafty activities for the kids. The day wrapped up with Salsa music outside of El Nuevo Cibao and Ponce De Leon Federal Savings Bank. I know I missed a bunch too. Erica Stoltz has continued the tradition that her mother Bette Stoltz started 23 years ago. Thanks to everyone who has kept this fair going. See you next year.
On Saturday the Court Smith Bid Steering Committee held a model block event. We wanted to get the word out about our ongoing efforts to create a BID, business improvement district. Starting on Smith Street in front of Stinky Bklyn we gave out free ice cream from Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, had a team of guys sweeping and doing clean up. There were some beautified tree pits and planters and the steering committee was there taking ballots and surveying what the residents want from the BID. We then moved over to Court St. in front of Runnin' Wild Kids Shoes and met some more neighbors. Hope you had a chance to stop by, say hello, and also enjoy a delicious ice cream courtesy of the steering committee. Caleb Caldwell Photography from The Brooklyn Paper stopped by to report as did Naomi Choy Smith of News 12 Brooklyn. Wow we made local media!