Store awnings touting a beauty salon, a taco restaurant, and ten other storefronts span the block of Willoughby Street between Bridge Street and Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn. However, none of these businesses have been active within these spaces for almost three years.
This phenomenon is a result of developers deinvesting in this retail corridor as the renovation of Downtown Brooklyn gains momentum. Furthermore, due to considerable publicity over these urban development projects, more and more local retailers are being pushed out.
Nevertheless, the windows of these vacated retail establishments do not offer a glimpse of dry wall and exposed electrical wires, instead these windows act as an medium to showcase artworks in an interim setting.
This upcoming July will be the third year since MetroTech BID and Ad Hoc Art (AHA), in cooperation with Avalon Bay and United American Land, unveiled the gallery, Willoughby Windows. They selected over fifteen artists, who had ties in the street art movement, with the task of creating artworks to help galvanize the area during its time of transition. According to the organizers, “This network of visual experiences can help redefine how people visiting, working, and living in downtown Brooklyn think and interact with their environment during a time of transition.”
At the time of its debut, writers who covered this story about Willoughby Windows expected that the gallery would be a temporary exhibit, not lasting beyond 2009 when the buildings would supposedly be demolished. However, a year later in May 2010, the initiative revamped the gallery with the introduction of another assembly of street art-inclined artists. At this point, the BBC took interest in this project and covered it as part of a commentary on the recession. They managed to capture footage of pedestrians interacting with the art, a vibrant interlude by the sidewalk instead of the alternative of a completely empty block.
Several of the works are site-specific, such as Laura Lee’s installation. She deliberately chose to format her drawings within a Polaroid frame in order to establish a connection with the former one-hour photo store where she displays her artwork. The artist, Joe Iurato, stated that in regards to the surrounding neighborhood, he wanted his artwork (a painting of an Ethiopian girl) to “resonate” with the local youth and act as an inspiration for them.
Nevertheless, the development in this vicinity, despite delays, is still moving forward. According to Garrison Buxton, owner/director of Ad Hoc Art Gallery, the installations will be taken down by the end of June and then the buildings will be demolished to make way for reconstruction. Ultimately, the purpose of the Willoughby Windows exhibit was to be a temporary placeholder during a time of transition. Yet, since it became a fixture in the area for almost three years, how much permanency has it created with nearby residents? Changing neighborhood dynamics is afoot and gentrification, for better or for worse, is a key force in this issue.
The precise date of removal is not yet known so if you find yourself in Downtown Brooklyn, make sure to be on the lookout for the gallery before it’s gone!
Willoughby Windows is located on Willoughby Street between Bridge Street and Duffield Street [Map]
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