In New Rochelle, New York — just a half-hour train ride from New York City’s Grand Central Terminal — artists and creatives are thriving. Close enough to the Big Apple to be inspired by the city’s cultural dynamism, yet far enough from its epicenter to find that elusive live/work balance of which most outer-borough artists might only dream. The City recently launched a contest that gives artists an opportunity to win one year free rent in a studio apartment at RXR Realty’s 360 Huguenot, a 28-story, 280-unit mixed-use building nearing completion of construction in the heart of New Rochelle’s vibrant downtown.

Beyond stunning architecture and a historical downtown, New Rochelle has a long history with the arts dating back to the early 20th century when it was home to a bustling “artist colony” composed of some of America’s best illustrators. It was here that Norman Rockwell resided when designing his first cover of the Saturday Morning Post, and illustrator J.C. Leyendecker — who made Arrow Shirts a household name — lived in New Rochelle and commuted down to the City just as countless others do today.

Painters, photographers, sculptors, illustrators and others are imbuing the city with an exciting energy. Surely one the most recognized resident artists of New Rochelle is Westchester native Charles Fazzino, internationally recognized for his highly-detailed 3D silkscreen serigraphs. Art runs in the Fazzino family, as Heather, daughter of Charles, is an artist in her own right. Interestingly, she’s a reverse commuter — Heather Fazzino is a resident of Brooklyn but maintains her studio in New Rochelle. The two have frequently teamed up for collaborations to create original work, and both have recently participated in projects to honor New Rochelle’s artistic legacy and civic spirit. A revitalization effort over the past few years has leaned heavily on artistic initiatives. New Rochelle Mayor Noah Bramson cites public art, a black box theater, rooftop performance space and an development of New Rochelle’s arts and culture district as ways the city is attempting to honor its artistic past, and the Fazzinos have contributed to two of those public art projects.

At an art unveiling for sculptures by the Fazzinos in October of last year, Mayor Bramson embraced New Rochelle’s artistic past as an inspiration for its future: “We really want to make sure that the arts and culture are integrated fully into the future that we’re building.”

With the recent announcement from the City of New Rochelle that artists can win free rent for 12 months in New Rochelle’s vibrant downtown, we profile six artists who are thriving in New Rochelle and learn a bit more about the spirit of community they’ve created:

Valeri Larko

Photo by Nick Porter

Normally, landscape painter Valeri Larko can be found at an abandoned driving range in the Bronx, or a scrapyard in New Jersey. “I do the bulk of my painting outdoors, in Westchester, Brooklyn and Queens.” She calls her car her “mobile studio,” but home is New Rochelle.

Larko and her husband moved into Media Loft, a coveted live work space at 50 Webster Avenue, in February 2005 following extensive renovations to their second-floor residence. “I teach part-time in Summit, New Jersey, and my husband works in Stamford, Connecticut, so the geography of New Rochelle was key.”

Photo by Nick Porter

It’s a short walk to work at her first floor studio, and Media Loft provides Larko with a community of creatives and a common area where residents curate a communal gallery on the first floor. Larko’s work examines the overlooked fringes of the urban landscape. Its aging infrastructure, forgotten waterways and graffiti-laced ruins are the draw for her. Here, grit and beauty reside in equal measure. “Each site has its own story to tell, and through patient observation acquired over months of painting on location, I work to bring that story to life and to capture the visual poetry of these places.”

Photo by Nick Porter

In New Rochelle, Larko revels in her community of painters, printmakers, jewelers, musicians and others. On her short-list for places to visit for art: the New Rochelle Museum of Arts & Culture, housed at New Rochelle High School. “I was delighted to participate in the Museum’s visiting artist program, under the direction of artist and educator Alexi Brock.”

Valeri will be showing at The Flinn Gallery in Greenwich Connecticut from March 21 – April 30. Her work can be seen on her website and on Instagram.  

Marie Hines Cowan

Photo by Nick Porter

Figurative oil painter Marie Hines Cowan has called New Rochelle home for the last 18 years. She soon found community around her craft. Cowan contacted an arts-savvy realtor in search of new studio space. “They knew about Media Loft and that this portion of Webster Avenue was developing into an arts-focused area.” She appreciates her studio for its great light and access to a large freight elevator to haul her massive creations, but also points to the building’s overall vibe: “I love the feeling of creativity. I’m surrounded by artists in this building and in other buildings in the neighborhood.”

Cowan creates life-sized oil paintings that mix colloquial culture with classical mythology to create narratives based around powerful female protagonists. The work is representational but unconstrained by realism, and her installations often include text and sound to more fully immerse the viewer in her worlds: “My current work deals with women’s stories in Greek mythology, aided by poetry in the form of sculptural relief text.”

Photo by Nick Porter

Also important to Cowan is the artist network to which she belongs and some of the city’s local galleries and arts organizations. “I always participate in Open Studios during our annual ArtsFest, put on by the New Rochelle Council on the Arts, and have shown work at Lord and Andra Gallery on Division Street, where I’ve also been able to grow my network of fellow artists.”

Photo by Nick Porter

Marie’s show “Musings: Chapter 4” will be showing at Crary Art Gallery in Warren, PA April 6 – May 4, with an opening reception April 6 (5:30pm-8:00pm). Her work can be found on her website, and paintings, prints and scarves are sold on her online store.

Alexi Brock

Photo courtesy Alexi Brock

New Rochelle’s history with the arts runs deep and some of its most dedicated educators cherish this history and work to carry it forward by training the next generation. Alexi Brock is a painter, independent curator and educator at New Rochelle High School where she’s been teaching K-12 students about art since 1991. She started the school’s Visiting Artists Program with artist Scott Seaboldt and is heavily involved with the school’s Museum of Arts and Culture. New Rochelle’s is the only public high school in America with a Regents-chartered art museum on campus, and Brock was mentioned by many of the artists we spoke with as an important and unique voice. Many have even shown there and participated in the visiting arts program: “Marie Hines Cowan was a visiting artist here, as was Valeri Larko.” Brock takes care not to waste these opportunities and works to help students apply what they learned through practice. “Charles Fazzino just did a big exhibit here at the school last year,” Brock said. “They had his work up for two months, and then they had a student show that was inspired by his work.”

New Rochelle High School

The high school’s program is well-rounded and helps budding artists develop their craft while teaching them about more practical careers they might consider in the art world. And the program plays the long game. As Brock emphasized, “We work K-12 as a department. It’s not just a one-off here, it’s really ingrained from the beginning of school.” Brock grew up in New Rochelle with artist parents including famed artist Alexander Rutsch and has great institutional knowledge about the city’s art offerings. She cites the Westchester Arts Council as playing a valuable role in managing the scene: “If an artist is coming in they just need to be part of the Arts Council to know what’s going on in Westchester County.” The New Rochelle Council on the Arts is also on her list as an important hub for the arts community. Brock sees a buzzing artistic community outside of her educational role. “My show that just opened two weeks ago, four of my artists were from Brooklyn. I had 250 people there Friday night.” She also credits New Rochelle’s proximity to New York City as a motivator for artists and art lovers to check out the scene. “I think New Rochelle is a great hub. I mean, we have Amtrak for God’s sake.” Brock has curated a show at Pelham Arts Center called Hyperaccumulators that is open through March 23, and she will be showing in a group show at the Painting Center in Chelsea during June. Her art can be found on her website:

Frank Stewart

Frank Stewart. Photo by Ayano Hisa courtesy of the artist

Photographer Frank Stewart has made ample use of New Rochelle’s aforementioned proximity to New York City. In fact, having family in New Rochelle was a big help in getting him closer to the city when he first arrived in the state. “My mother moved to New Rochelle in 1967 and I came in 1968 from Chicago to go to college in the city,” Frank said. I had my first shows in New Rochelle back then and my first years in college I commuted back and forth.” Frank describes an important early moment in his career when he met African-American artist, and future mentor, Roy Decarava: “I said ‘Am I on the track?’ and he said ‘Yeah! You in the track!’” As Stewart describes it, Decarava was instrumental in getting him into Cooper Union (he received a BFA there) where he studied with Decarava and Bronx-born street photographer Gary Winogrand. Stewart defines his studio quite ambitiously: “The world has always been the studio.” His primary subject matter these days is jazz — he is the senior staff photographer for Jazz at Lincoln Center — but he’s also known for his reportage photography, which was an important component in making ends meet at first. As he recounted in an interview for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s blog: “Right after I got to college I took a job at the Studio Museum and I stayed there for about 10 years, that’s really how I made money.” Additionally, he received two NEA grants that “allowed me to go down South and take pictures. I’d get on buses and sleep in bus stations on plastic chairs.” Since then, Frank has amassed an impressive set of credits. He’s shown in solo and group shows in numerous galleries including: The High Museum, Washington Project for the Arts, Studio Museum in Harlem, Schomburg Center for Research, the International Center of Photography, Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. He was also on the first team of artists invited by the Cuban government to photograph the island, and he was invited to photograph the 1984 olympics in Los Angeles. He’s been an artist in residence at Harlem’s Studio Museum and has published a number of books including one with jazz great — now Jazz at Lincoln Center’s artistic director — Wynton Marsalis. Even as his career has taken off New Rochelle has remained a place to which he can return. After his mother’s passing in 2010 Stewart moved back. He now lives in her house and, once again, makes the work commute between New Rochelle and Grand Central Terminal. “The photography of Frank Stewart” is now on display at the New Rochelle Council on the Arts Rotunda, New Rochelle city hall. The show is on view now through April 30th, Monday – Friday (9am-4pm). For more info, call: (914) 224-4243.

Amy Regalia

Photo by Nick Porter

Photographer Amy Regalia’s commute is enviable as a resident of Media Loft, like Larko. She descends from her lofted bedroom to her first-floor work space, adjacent to the inviting open-plan kitchen and dining area. A magnetized wall (for previewing prints) divides the sitting area from her work zone, which is occupied by a large-format printer, a supplies cupboard, the artist’s large format view camera and medium format Hasselblad digital camera, with prints of her current works-in-progress prominently displayed.

Photo by Nick Porter

“I’m interested in the quieter details of urban landscape,” Regalia said. After graduating from California College of the Arts and working in photo conservation for clients such as the Fraenkel Gallery, she had the experience of working with the legendary collections of Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon, as well as Richard Misrach and Robert Adams. “I began exploring and photographing the outskirts of my neighborhood and cities across the U.S.,” Regalia continued. Throughout the home / studio are artworks and artifacts that reveal Regalia’s time spent abroad. “My husband and I lived in West Africa for seven years. After returning to the states we intended to settle in New York City but found it cost prohibitive.” New Rochelle and its proximity to Metro North (the artist says it’s an easy 8-minute walk from her place to the train station) was the answer. “My husband works for the United Nations and I frequently travel to the City for photography shoots and art events, so this was a big deciding factor for us.”

Photo by Nick Porter

Following a year of extensive renovations, the couple moved into Media Loft in February 2017. “Living here, I have a built-in community of like- minded creative people.” Her sentiment extends beyond her building to the larger community of artists living and working in New Rochelle. “That’s why I love New Rochelle: it’s really close to everywhere I want to be.” You can find more info about Amy, as well as some of her work, at her website: Her photos can also be found on Instagram.

John Mignault

Photo by Nick Porter

“I love the intimacy of drawing,” says artist John Mignault in his lovely garage-cum-studio in northern New Rochelle. But his work encompasses far more than drawing: abstraction and figuration; paint, pencil, and even, sometimes, digital imaging. A self-taught artist with influences such as George Harriman, Jack Kirby and Philip Guston, Mignault is originally from Providence, Rhode Island and moved to New Rochelle from Manhattan in 1998 as his young family was eager for room to stretch. Around the same time, Mignault began to challenge himself. “I assigned myself a ‘drawing-a-day’ exercise. It gave me some structure for ensuring not a day passed that I wasn’t exercising my hands and allowing my head and my hands to enjoy some creative release.”

Photo by Nick Porter

Ten-plus years on, he’s delighted with the artistic community thriving in New Rochelle. “I stay in touch through ArtsFest,” he said of the annual city-wide open studio and events weekend hosted by the New Rochelle Council on the Arts, “I pay attention to the work of emerging artists highlighted at local businesses, such as R Cafe & Tea Boutique on Huguenot Street. My art is a constant search for something whose nature remains largely unknown to me, but I’ll recognize it when I see it.” Mignault hosts much of his work on Flickr, and you can find him posting work frequently from his studio, “Atelier Crashcup.” —- The City of New Rochelle, in partnership with RXR Realty, launched a new contest that will award one lucky artist one year free rent in a studio apartment at RXR’s 360 Huguenot, a 28-story, 280-unit mixed-use building nearing completion of construction. Located minutes from the Metro-North station in the heart of downtown New Rochelle, the building will include a 10,000-square-foot black box theater for film, theater, dance, music and art programs. To apply, interested artists must submit a 30-second-or-less video detailing why New Rochelle is the ideal creative place to live. The deadline to apply is May 17, and the winner will be announced in July.

Next, check out 15 Must Visit Places in New Rochelle and hour walking tour guide to the historical downtown.