Arts Group Beautifying Sandy-Damaged Rockaways With Murals

By Katie Honan on April 1, 2014 2:49pm 

 The first mural was painted on the side of Sayra's Wine Bar. 
The first mural was painted on the side of Sayra's Wine Bar. 
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

ROCKAWAY BEACH — A nonprofit arts group that helps beautify cities around the country is raising money to bring world-renowned street artists to paint murals on a commercial stretch still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. 

Beautify Earth, which is based out of Santa Monica, is helping to organize mural painting on more than a dozen walls along Rockaway Beach Boulevard, and will also organize community cleanups and create a sculpture garden.

The goal is to bring something positive to the peninsula, which is still slowly rebuilding after the devastating 2012 storm.

The positivity will hopefully allow “residents to become more engaged with their neighborhoods,” said Josh Manes, the east coast director of the program.

Resident Matthew Villetto, 31, a senior project manager with Douglas Elliman Real Estate, reached out to the arts group months ago, realizing how significant it would be to have world-renowned artists to spruce up the bare exterior walls of local businesses.

"My focus is on the social and economic impact this project will have on the community,” said Villetto, who’s working as a project leader and lives close to the first completed mural.

He presented the plan to the community board, which loved it, he said. 

In February, artist Alice Mizrachi turned a brick wall next to Sayra’s Wine Bar between Beach 91st and Beach 92nd streets into a mural featuring the legendary Billie Holiday.

The next project starts this week and will be painted by Italian artist Alice Pasquini, who has worked in places such as Paris and Oslo. She also is planning to paint a mural uptown.

It’s the first of three murals she’s scheduled to paint in New York and New Jersey, and she’s been inspired by the diversity and history of Rockaway, Villetto said.

Other walls will be painted by artists including Chris Stain, Mitchel Coffman and Cernesto, he said.

The organization Hearts of the World will work with local children on a mural sponsored by Vans, and local arts group Rockaway Artists Alliance will also have their own mural, he said.

Beautify Earth is hosting a fundraiser on Saturday, April 12, at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, where they hope to raise the $15,000 needed to complete this portion of the project. The money will mostly cover the cost of supplies and a small stipend for artists.

Admission is $20 and there will be live music and drinks, as well as art. The group is also taking online donations for the project at this site. 

For Villetto, the art is a way to brighten up his community while it waits for other improvements, which has been slow.

The boardwalk rebuilding project is expected to begin later this month, but it will take a year to complete the first section. And the city's home rebuilding project, Build It Back, just this week started mailing out reimbursement checks for homeowners, and began construction on homes.

This project is “grassroots, immediate effort— and the impact is profound.”

“We’re not waiting around for the government to improve our neighborhood,” he said. “It brings some energy and life into the street, and another reason for people to come down.”

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