Coney Island spruces up even as most of amusements closed till next spring

For Coney Island, it was practically a lost summer — as the COVID-19 pandemic kept amusement parks and other big attractions locked up most of, or all season. Yet the pandemic didn’t stop the creative nature that thrives in the seaside Brooklyn community.

The Alliance for Coney Island sponsored six noted artists to paint murals on the storefront gates to liven up the area that has been a shadow of itself because of COVID-19 — plagued by graffiti and disrepair due to so many businesses closed during the pandemic.

Members of the Alliance, made up of Coney Island businesses, unveiled Thursday several new public art murals that have brightened storefront gates and walls through their People’s Playground Mural Project.

Featuring New York-based artists Amethyst Nutting, Danielle Mastrion, Julia Cocuzza, Megan Watters, Nell Breyer, and Zeehan Wazed, the People’s Playground Mural Project was inspired to create a welcoming environment and make a positive impact on the community by bringing public art to the streets of Coney Island for all to enjoy.

The murals are largely focused on the Surf Avenue corridor in the Amusement District, painting gates of seasonal businesses that typically close in the Fall and don’t reopen until the Spring. 

Alexandra Silversmith, executive director of the Alliance for Coney island, at one of her commissioned murals at Luna Park. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

These businesses include Coney Island Beach Shop, Coney Island USA’s Shooting Gallery, Fly Wheel Eats at Luna Park in Coney Island, Pete’s Clam Stop, and the wall of Sneakertown USA that is located on West 15th Street between Surf and Mermaid Avenue.

By painting the gates, the Alliance hopes this art will bring a new element to the Coney Island landscape and encourages New Yorker’s to wander the streets to view the artwork starting this week through 2021 while supporting the few small businesses that are open.

Alexandra Silversmith, executive director of the Alliance for Coney island, said she is looking forward to the next season to get Coney Island restarted after its amusement community has been shuttered for all of 2020.

“It’s bad – Disney just laid off 20,000 people,” Silversmith sighed. “We are trying to beautify it – look at Chill (the restaurant), it was beautifully painted gate, now  it’s completely covered in graffiti.”

“We think pubic art is big benefit to the area, and these are all local artists,” added Silversmith,  “some living really close by, but the goal is to beautify and to make it more pleasant visitor and business environment and we are hoping that next year we will be open and it will be 10 tines better and we will have beautiful gates – but more importantly businesses will open and they can survive.”

Nell Breyer, an artist from Windsor Terrace with a studio in Industry City, said the mural at Luna Park that she created represents hope for the community.

“Hopefully it’s something and will help the neighborhood,” Breyer said. “I’ve gotten a lot of comments and people are asking me are they opening back up – a lot of interest in the Flywheel (ride) and people come by and are hopeful that this will all reopen. In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed learning about the community.”

Nell Breyer, an artist from Windsor Terrace, paints a mural at Luna Park. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Danielle Mastrion, a Marine Park based artist, said her mural took 13 full painting days to complete, a full three-week process.

“I grew up in Coney Island and wanted to do tribute of historic rides, past and present, so every single ride on the west side of the gate is an historic ride that you still see and is landmarked or has been torn down and people still talk about, and I wanted to bring them back,” Mastrion said. “On the right side, is a tribute to Coney island USA Mermaid Parade, the mermaids and sirens that are all over coney island. I hope it brings back a lot of old memories for people that remember old rides, like the Zipper and the Thunderbolt.”

Leaders tour the murals on Surf Avenue. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Silversmith led the tour of the murals and said they will be ready to restart in the spring.

“Anything that brings joy and excitement to our Coney Island community during this difficult time is a much-needed distraction. We encourage New Yorkers to visit us and experience the work in person while supporting our local businesses and the New York Aquarium,” Silversmith said.

Amusement owners say they are concerned that the state has so far failed to give them guidance for reopening in the spring. Many say they fear complete failure should the next season not open promptly.

The coney Island Beach Shop, which is open to the public now, has a new mural, but he says “nobody is here” and he looks forward to the next season. (Photo by Todd Maisel)