Artists take over with Atlantic Avenue with new exhibit in local businesses

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Eye Smile, You Smile by Miguel Ayuso is one of dozens of artworks that will be on display along Atlantic Avenue starting Oct. 17. (Miguel Ayuso)

Rock down to Atlantic Avenue!

A new self-guided art exhibit opens in businesses, storefront windows, and along the sidewalks of Atlantic Avenue starting Oct. 17. The Arts Gowanus ArtWalk on Atlantic Ave. will showcase works by local creators on 1.5 miles of the thoroughfare, which organizers hope will be a boon for both area artisans and small businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“ArtWalk is an opportunity for all of us to discover the pleasures of the Avenue when our merchants need us most,” said Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation’s Acting Director Howard Kolins in a statement. “We hope that New Yorkers and visitors to the City take an opportunity to stroll, imbibe, shop and celebrate the small town vibe we enjoy every day on Atlantic Ave.”

Works from more than 100 borough artists will be on view in more than 65 storefront windows or inside shops — with strict adherence to indoor social distancing guidelines — between Fourth Avenue and the waterfront through Nov. 1, according to a spokeswoman for the event.

“This is a socially-distanced way to bring people back to the avenue and get them out of their houses, while looking at something that’s inspiring and hopeful,” said Stacey Sherman, who called the event an art exhibit “with a side of shopping and dining.”

Art on display includes “Eye Smile, You Smile,” a photo wall installation of paired pictures showing people smiling with and without masks, by Miguel Ayuso.

The visual artist — originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, who now operates two studios in Gowanus and Greenwood Heights — has collected photos of some 50 people and said the photos show how we protect ourselves and others during the pandemic, while also reminding viewers of what’s beneath the mask.

“We are caring for ourselves and each other, but at the same time we’re missing smiles,” Ayuso said. “[When] you smile at people, you can see it in their eyes that you’re smiling behind the mask. [The installation is] to remind people that there are those smiles still behind those masks.”

Miguel Ayuso’s self-portrait as part of his photo installation “Eye Smile, You Smile.” (Miguel Ayuso)

Also along the avenue, a group of environmentally-friendly graphic banners called “Neighborhood Refections” will be strung around sidewalk tree beds showing personal statements from local artists and residents on the current state of affair and issues important to them, according to the organizers.

There will be surprise pop-up music and dance performances during the roughly two-week run — but without pre-announced times or places to avoid crowds amid the pandemic, according to Sherman.

QR codes will allow visitors to find out more about the exhibits and guide them along the strip, while stores will offer specials, discounts, and promotions.

Information booths will also be available at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, as well as at several intersections along the avenue and nearby, including at Bond Street, Nevins Street, and at the corner of Court and Clinton streets.

The event’s organizers — the Development Corporation, the Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District, and Arts Gowanus — are the minds behind the decades-old Atlantic Antic and Gowanus Open Studios, both of which were called off this year due to the coronavirus.

The head of the Gowanus organization said he was excited to give both local artisans and businesses a chance to shine.

“As an artist, I’m extremely excited for the opportunity this event gives artists and visitors to engage in arts and culture in a safe way and for the public to see the amazing depth of creativity and talent we have locally in Brooklyn,” said Arts Gowanus Executive Director Johnny Thornton in a statement.

Arts Gowanus ArtWalk on Atlantic Ave. [Atlantic Avenue, between Fourth Avenue and the waterfront, www.artsgowanus.org]. Opens Oct. 17-18; exhibits on view through Nov. 1. Free.

This story first appeared on our sister publication brooklynpaper.com.