By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Artist Andrea Arroyo has displayed her work in galleries but when she won a 2009 competition to have her drawings celebrating women writers of the Harlem Renaissance displayed as banners along 125th Street, she found a whole new audience.
"It's a way to create work outside of the gallery scene," Arroyo said. "And it was a wonderful way to share my work with the community."
Harlem arts and business groups are looking for artists like Arroyo who want to display their work along 125th Street, the area's busiest thoroughfare, as part of its third "Bid on Culture" project.
Five artists will be chosen to have their work celebrating music displayed on 8 foot tall banners from Morningside to Fifth avenues for a year starting on June 20. June is also Black Music Month. The winners will be chosen on May 9. Each will receive $1,000.
"We want to look at Harlem's link to music and Harlem's place as a generator of much of the music we hear today," said Wayne Benjamin, director of residential development for the Harlem Community Development Corporation.
A project of the 125th Street Business Improvement District, the Harlem Arts Alliance and the Harlem Community Development Corporation, the 24 banners are a way to market 125th Street and create new links between the arts and business communities in Harlem, said Barbara Askins, president and CEO of the 125th Street BID.
"For the business community it proves that art can be a driving, economic tool," said Askins. "Businesses in the district are being invited to sponsor the banners."
The effort is part of a shift by the business improvement district to move from simply managing the 125th Street corridor to working to market and brand the area, Askins said.
And since artists make up a good portion of Harlem's small business community, it gives them a chance at wider exposure.
"You can go anywhere in the city and go to a Starbucks or Rite Aid but it's Harlem's arts and culture that attracts people and makes it a high point for visitors," said Michael Unthank, executive director of the Harlem Arts Alliance.
Unthank said some entries have flowed in but the group is looking for more.
"You don't have to be a Harlem artist but you have to show love for Harlem," Unthank said.
The deadline for entries is close of business on April 29. Visit the Harlem Arts Alliance's website for details.