WATCH: Metal Security Gates Get Makeover on Lower East Side
LOWER EAST SIDE — The gray roll-down security gates lining the Lower East Side's streets at night are getting a makeover.
Local resident Billy Rohan recently launched the "100 Gates Project" to brighten the drab metal security gates with colorful murals. The project pairs local artists with business owners who are interested in sponsoring a mural outside their storefront, and so far designs have included everything from orange blossoms to a portrait of rapper Ghostface Killah.
“People have been painting these things in New York for years and years, but usually they just get tagged up with graffiti on them,” said Rohan, who owns skateboard equipment and clothing company Samurai NY.
“It’d be a really cool thing to show people that these really old roll gates could actually have new life in them when you put art on them,” he added. “They become kind of like a metal canvas, essentially.”
Rohan said his goal is to turn the neighborhood — especially the area between Canal, Houston, Essex and Allen streets — into an "open-air gallery" each night as businesses close for the day. So far, he's working with local painters and has even contributed to a few of the murals himself, but he hopes to commission work from well-known artists from around the country.
“Imagine a Chuck Close gate, a Jeff Koons gate," Rohan said. "That would drive real tourism down to this part of the Lower East Side."
Rohan also hopes to eventually cut down the gates and show them in galleries worldwide, after businesses swap the current metal gates with the more transparent ones they are required to install by 2026.
So far, artists have spray-painted about 10 gates in the neighborhood as part of the project, including at clothing boutique Homies Wonderland and accordion shop Main Squeeze, which are both on Essex Street across from Seward Park.
Some of the murals represent the businesses behind the gates, like the coffee plant branches Jessica Blowers, an artist who is Rohan's girlfriend, painted on the gates of Café Grumpy’s Essex Street location.
Business owners that participate in the project contribute funds to cover the $300 supply cost for each gate, plus they usually add a small stipend for the artist.
“I think it’s great,” said Sam Greenfield, who owns The Sweet Life candy shop at 63 Hester St., where Blowers plans to paint a candy-themed design in the next few weeks.
“It adds something after hours when the stores are closed," Greenfiled added, "and our gates, people write graffiti on them all the time, so I thought I might as well make them nice as well as draw attention when the store is closed."
About 22 other businesses have expressed interest in the project and about 58 other artists want to participate, Rohan said, but some businesses are reluctant to pay for the murals.
Rohan said he is exploring fundraising options, including Kickstarter, and has sought help from the Lower East Side Business Improvement District. In the meantime, he plans to continue painting as many gates as he can.
Blowers said she enjoys seeing people's reactions to the murals.
“My favorite thing about working on these murals is when we have the people in the community walk by and say, 'Thank you for making the neighborhood a more beautiful place to live,’” she said. “It’s added a new energy to the street.”