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Artists

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When people look back to spring 2020, they remember how the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down. Zoom became a regular form of communication, visits to grandparents were done in a drive-thru fashion and many people anxiously awaited their stimulus checks.

While those checks from the U.S. government were sent, some people needed the money more than others. 

Many people lost their jobs, their businesses and their livelihoods. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in February 2020 — just before the pandemic hit the States — unemployment was at 3.5%. Just two months later, as the virus began to spread rapidly, unemployment rates skyrocketed to nearly 15%.

But what many people might not realize is how impacted the local arts were during this time. 

We as a society leaned on our first responders out in the trenches. We listened to our elected officials on the news every day hoping to hear something good. We shopped locally to help our business-owning neighbors. 

However, something that we all enjoy one way or another — the arts — was shattered and not much was being done to help our local artists, performers and creators. 

According to Johns Hopkins University research, as of December 2021, the percentage of job losses at nonprofit arts organizations remained more than three times worse than the average of all nonprofits. 

Artists/creatives were — and remain — among the most severely affected segment of the nation’s workforce. The arts are a formidable industry in the U.S. — $919.7 billion (pre-COVID) that supported 5.2 million jobs and represented 4.3% of the nation’s economy.

And now, nearing two years since the 2020 shutdowns, artists on Long Island are voicing how it felt. Many believe that significant relief funding was not given to the arts and related nonprofits despite the impact they have on Long Island’s economy.

Think about it. How many of us love to see a show at the local theater? How many of us hang artwork from nearby artists on our walls? How many of us enjoy live music as we dine at our favorite eateries? 

Those people had jobs, too. 

Sometimes we forget that the people working after a typical 9-to-5 shift are working, too. What some may call a hobby is a way of life for thousands of people.

We still have a way to go, and unfortunately COVID will haunt us for a very long time in more ways than one. But the next time you’re out to dinner with a friend, drop a tip in the guitar player’s case. Splurge on a drawing from a local artist and support your neighborhood theater. 

The arts helped us during the pandemic. We found solace in other people’s creations. Now it’s time to pay back the artists and show them how much they are needed, wanted and loved.

Thomas Manuel inside The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook. Photo by Julianne Mosher

The Long Island Arts Alliance is asking artists, performers and creators to share their stories amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lauren Wagner, executive director of LIAA, said that over the last two years, the group has been asking creatives to share the experiences pre-pandemic and onward in hopes that new legislation will be created to further help the art and culture sector locally.

“The percentage of job losses in the arts is three times worse than other nonprofit organizations,” she said. 

LIAA serves as an alliance of and for the region’s not-for-profit arts, cultural and arts education organizations.  LIAA promotes awareness of and participation in Long Island’s world-class arts and cultural institutions in both Nassau and Suffolk counties. 

Formed in 2003, LIAA offers leadership and diverse support services to arts organizations, serves as an advocate for arts education in our schools and collaborates on strategies for economic development and community revitalization.

An advocate for artists, painters, sculptors, dancers, performers and musicians, Wagner added that when things were shut down two years ago, LIAA decided it wanted to reach out to its community to find out how people were handling the stressful changes.

That’s when LIAA came up with surveys to give a platform for creators to explain what’s going on in their lives.

“The surveys are to poll everyone’s status,” Wagner said. “Then, we use those numbers to go back to our new legislators and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on and we need help.’”

Most recently, a 2022 update has been posted to the LIAA website. This is the third survey to make its way around the arts community.

The survey states, “As COVID-19 extends into 2022, it is important to secure updated information about the continuing impact of the pandemic on the creative sector and creative workers. The information you provide is critical to advocacy efforts for the arts and culture sector across Long Island.”

Wagner said the more creatives who participate, the better.

“Artists/creatives were — and remain — among the most severely affected segment of the nation’s workforce,” she said. “The arts are a formidable industry in the U.S. — $919.7 billion (pre-COVID) that supported 5.2 million jobs and represented 4.3% of the nation’s economy.”

She added that they have not seen significant relief funding earmarked for the arts from the local government despite the impact the sector has on the local economy.

“The American Rescue Plan provided $385,003,440 to Nassau County, $286,812,434 to Suffolk County, and an additional $170 million to our local townships,” she said.

But when it comes to the higher levels of government, Wagner said that things often get “skewed” because of the Island’s proximity to New York City.

“I hate to say compete with the city, but we do,” she said. “We’re a great economic driver on Long Island and we get forgotten about.”

She said the surveys could “paint a real picture of what it’s like to be an artist on Long Island.”

The artists

Patty Eljaiek. Photo from Patty Eljaiek

Patty Eljaiek, a visual artist from Huntington Station, said that many people might not realize the impact art has on the community — especially financially.

“I think it’s part of the perception that art is not a business,” she said. “Art is a business.”

Elijaiek added that if an artist is looking to share their expertise with the world, they are, in fact, a business. 

“Art has been something that people appreciate but they don’t know how to put value to it,” she said.

Wagner agreed. She said that early on during the pandemic, people looked to the arts for solace.

“Artists are second responders,” she said. “First responders save lives, but artists put everything back together.”

Alex Alexander, a musician in Rocky Point, said that people who work in the arts — such as being a working musician — don’t have the typical 9-to-5 routine.

“You can plan with a 9-to-5,” he said. “I can’t plan my life as other people would.”

And Tom Manuel, executive director of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook and a musician himself, said that his venue was shut down for 15 months throughout the pandemic, but still continued to serve its community with outdoor shows despite the lack of revenue coming in. 

Manuel said that while big industries were being saved by the federal government, the nonprofit sector was “left out” and they had to look to their sponsors to help save them. 

“We were really blessed in that we had a lot of our donors and sponsors step up and say, ‘Hey, we know that you’re closed, but we’re going to still give our sponsorship and don’t worry about programming, just stay open,’” he said.

Board members at The Jazz Loft began raising money themselves for other artists who were struggling, raising nearly $20,000 worth of assistance.

But the pain and struggle were still there as they helped their peers. 

“The statistics show of all the things that could close and not reopen, the most unlikely place to reopen after being shuttered is a performing arts venue,” he said. “That’s the data.”

Manuel said that jazz is all about improvisation — which is what musicians did — and to work through the blues.

“I think that one of the beautiful things that did come out of the pandemic is people realized how important the arts were to them,” he said. “I think there was a reconnection that was established, which is a beautiful thing.”

Artists can participate in LIAA’s survey until Feb. 16 online now at longislandartsalliance.org.

“People don’t realize this is their livelihood on the line,” Wagner said. 

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Photo from Brick Clay Studio

SUPPORT OUR LOCAL ARTISTS

The Brick Clay Studio & Gallery, 2 Flowerfield, St. James will present a Fall Outdoor Pottery and Craft Show from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. All participants are local artists presenting unique and original works. The Gallery Shop will be open to browse the handmade pottery made on the premises. Please join them in reconnecting with the artist community. Admission is free. For more information, visit  www.thebrickstudio.org or call 833-THE-BRICK.

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Port Jefferson artist Jennifer Hannaford, right, along with Linda Alfin, left, revitalized the Dickens Festival mural present in front of Chandler Square just off Main Street. Photo from Hannaford

It’s a scene straight out of a Charles Dickens novel, and has been displayed every holiday season for years.

Featuring buildings covered in snow, a big decorated tree and a sign that welcomes visitors to the annual Dickens Festival in the Village of Port Jefferson, the mural was starting to look a bit worn, according to local business leaders. 

“The cutout is pretty old,” said Barbara Ransome, director of operations for the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce. “Businesses were saying it was looking tired and asking if anything could be done.”

With the intention to clean up the painting and make it as good as new, Ransome asked two local artists to give the decade-old mural a facelift.

Linda Alfin and Jennifer Hannaford have been spending a good part of this past year decorating different spaces throughout the village. 

It started when Ransome and chamber president, Mary Joy Pipe, recruited the artists over the summer to decorate a set of electrical boxes and turn them into aquatic scenes in an attempt to beautify downtown.

“I’ve always understood that art can be powerfully transformative for a community, but engaging in this process has been fun because I get to see the change,” Hannaford said. “People also feel like their village is being cared for and, in turn, so are they.”

Since then, the pair has done several murals together throughout the village. 

“Linda is one of the most efficient painters I have ever seen,” Hannaford said. “I cannot say enough about her work ethic. I hope more folks take advantage of the fact that they have this kind of service and talent in their own town. I have learned a great deal from her this year.”

And the work didn’t stop for the artists come earlier this month. Alfin said that when Ransome called last minute asking if they could “freshen up” the scene, the two artists jumped on it. 

“The very next day we brought the mural back to life,” Alfin said. “Everyone walking by as we were painting was thanking us for repainting the mural.”

It took just two hours on Dec. 1 to make it vibrant, while the compliments and gratitude from residents touched the Port Jefferson muralist.

“A woman came up to us and was so happy to see us sprucing it up,” Alfin said.

While the Dickens Festival was canceled this year due to the COVID crisis, the snowmen in the scene can now greet visitors with a new smile, reminding them of what can hopefully be celebrated normally again next year. 

“I’m so happy to be able to help my town look more inviting and festive with all the murals we did so far throughout the village,” Alfin said.

The Shelf at East Main officially opened its doors April 19 and welcomed an array of local artists, who all said they were happy for the rare opportunity to show off their work.

The new consignment-style shop is similar to the typical art gallery, since artists show their work and give a percentage of sales to The Shelf.  But, Diane Walker, the new store owner, said that her operation is different, because it’s intended to be more encouraging to local artists. 

Kyle Kubik, Walker’s son and an artist himself, said people were coming in at the last hour to get their work on display.

“There’s no out of pocket expense to them, and it’s up to us, and them, to promote the venue,” Kubik said.

Walker, a 25-year resident of Mount Sinai, opened the shop to try and give those artists the opportunity to really flesh out their passions in a noncompetitive space, something that gives local artists a leg up in an often cutthroat field.

Now that The Shelf is open, here’s a small helping of some of the artists who have their stuff on display. All had a similar frame of mind, saying that there are very few spaces like the Shelf where they can display their work without an upfront cost or upfront judgment.

The Shelf at East Main, located at 218 E. Main St., Port Jefferson, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Walker said she expects she will soon start to open up the store for events outside regular hours. More information is available at www.visittheshelf.com.

Kyle Kubik

Walker’s son and an artist specializes in making video game and other pop culture inspired shirts and paraphernalia. He often ran the convention scenes and art shows from Long Island to New York City, and his mother saw the hustle that went into promoting one’s work as an artist. Kubik called it a gamble when one traveled to such events.

A customer holds one of Kyle Kubik’s shirts. Photo by Kyle Barr

“There’s a lot of competition out there, and there’s a high barrier to entry,” he said. “In my experience with conventions, I’ve walked out of events with a few thousand dollars in your pocket. I’ve walked out of events where I’m a thousand short, because I had to travel somewhere. Because of that hot and cold aspect, that’s what’s difficult for artists.”

He added that in some cases, even with quality work, some people simply don’t believe their work is good enough to be on display.

“We have macramé, we have knitted pieces,” he said. “You could put it up and be in a huge pool of people, or you can be in a local place with people in your community.”

More of Kubik’s work can be found at: www.kylevonkubik.tumblr.com/.

Crystal Wyllie

Crystal Wyllie speaks to a shopper. Photo by Kyle Barr

Wyllie, a Setauket resident, has been doing ceramic pottery since her college days, and opened up her own small workshop in her parent’s garage. She first learned about The Shelf from her aunt, the owner of Cardinal Realty in Port Jefferson, just next door to the new shop. 

“There aren’t many places where local artists can show their work in a noncompetitive atmosphere,” Wyllie said. “And I think it’s incredible to see what our community is capable of creating.”

To find more of Wyllie’s work, visit: @crystalmariepottery on Instagram or her website at www.crystalmariepottery.com.

Paul Cammarata 

One of Paul Cammarata’s photos. Photo by Kyle Barr

Cammarata is a local photographer, taking his inspiration from the idyllic sights of Port Jefferson, nearby Stony Brook and beyond. His photographs feature alluring destinations, images of classic cars, still lives and nature.

A graphic designer by trade, Cammarata got back into photography in the last few years after being convinced by a friend and watercolor artist. 

“Galleries can cost an artist a fortune — or you don’t get the right exposure sometimes,” he said. “Hopefully with the way [Walker] worked it out it’s a win-win for everybody.”

Cammarata’s work can be found at: www.fineartamerica.com.

Tracey Elizabeth

Tracey Elizabeth holding her painting. Photo by Kyle Barr

Elizabeth’s day job is photography, but she said her true passion is painting. 

To her, the new store is an opportunity not just for her, but for the community of small-town artists who are still looking to break out. It also gives the chance for the local community to see the creativity of their community.

“I live in Port Jeff, so I like that [Walker’s] using local artists,” she said. “It’s helping local artists, and it being a small town it really needs those small-town artists to be represented.”

Elizabeth’s photography can be found at: www.traceyelizabeth.com.

Paul Motisi 

One of Paul Motisi’s projects. Photo by Kyle Barr

Motisi works in graphic design, producing designs for shirts, album covers and more. He started doing freelance work out of college, and recently he started creating spray-painted stencil portraits and selling them on Etsy. He has portraits of characters from Rocky Balboa to The Dude from “The Big Lebowski.” Now his images sit in person inside The Shelf in Port Jefferson. He said many art shows and conventions can be hard to work with.

“Usually those people are very standoffish — they usually want you to jump through hoops, but these people were just so ready to have people involved,” Motisi said. “These places are in short supply.”

Motisi’s work can be found at his website: www.paulmotisi.com, or at his Etsy page at: www.etsy.com/shop/motisistencilart.

Being a hospital patient for any length of time is not likely an experience that engenders tranquility or inner peace for most, but local artists and hospital staff are doing their best to change that.

The 3 North Patient Care Unit at Port Jefferson’s John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, a newly constructed intermediate care unit on the third floor, is now furnished with paintings from artists who donated their work to be displayed for and enjoyed by patients and staff.

The hospital hosted a reception to thank the artists, including Irene Ruddock, president of Setauket Artists, who played a leadership role in getting the idea off the ground.

“The art installation endeavor was the inspiration of Dr. Shug-Hong Young, a cardiologist at Mather Hospital, who purchased one of my paintings which he donated to the hospital’s newest wing,” Ruddock said.

She said Young then took the idea to Mather president, Kenneth Roberts, who liked the concept and requested works featuring Long Island waterways and boats be displayed.

“This is actually a wonderful opportunity and a wonderful meeting of community members and artists with their local community hospital resource,” Roberts said. “We put a brand new wing on with private rooms with computers in the rooms so we don’t have all of the [computers on wheels] or [workstations on wheels] out in the hallways, so nothing is crowded. So we have this brand new nursing station with beautiful finishes, but the one thing we didn’t have was artwork.”

Ruddock was tasked with selecting paintings from her group’s members that fit the bill.

“I chose art that would add to the beauty of the already beautiful space, create a peaceful, serene environment that might provide a sense of spiritual healing,” she said. “I wanted paintings that touch people’s hearts and souls — ones that were memorable and draw you right into the painting.”

Young explained why he donated Ruddock’s initial painting, and why he thought it would brighten up the wing.

“It came to me that if we could bring all of these local artists [works] to the hospital, because many of the artworks reflect local scenes — the beach, the port, the pond — that would make patients feel they are not isolated, they are still connected to the beautiful environment,” he said.

Emily Emma, nurse manager for 3 North who recently transferred to the position, said she asked colleagues in her unit if there was anything she could do to elevate their work and the care they provide to patients, and a common theme emerged in the answers.

“Most of them had said, ‘We would really like some artwork on the walls,’” Emma said. “Patients can’t get enough of them. It’s really a nice peaceful journey to get through their progression of health.”

Jim Molloy, a Miller Place-based artist, was among those who donated a piece to the hospital that he called “Turning Tides.”

“I think that’s what art is about — it’s about brightening up someone’s day,” Molloy said. “If somebody can look at a piece of art and kind of escape for a while, then that makes me feel good, it makes them feel good — it’s perfect.”

Ruddock thanked Roberts, Young and Emma for their efforts in bringing the idea to fruition, as well as Mather employees Nancy Uzo, vice president of public affairs, and Laura Juliano, director of annual giving. Juliano said artist Renée Caine also provided invaluable help during the planning and installation phases of the idea. Caine donated one of her own works.

“By far, the most rewarding aspect of the project was the reaction of the patients, caregivers and staff to the paintings,” Ruddock said. “One staff member said of Michael Kutzing’s painting of a sailing vessel, ‘I mentally take a ride on the boat every day on the Long Island Sound to breathe in the air.’”

Calling artists and artisans

The Whaling Museum, 301 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor invites local artists and artisans (bakers, carvers, knitters, quilters, potters, candlemakers, woodworkers, weavers, etc.) to showcase their old world skills and talents at the museum’s annual SeaFaire celebration on Saturday, Sept. 29 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is an opportunity to share and sell works of art. There is no charge if demonstrations are provided. Questions? Call Liz at 367-3418.

‘Metamorphosis,’ Best in Show Senior Division by Jeanette Wells

Just in time for Halloween, the Huntington Arts Council’s annual Nightmare on Main Street — Student Art Exhibit is currently on view at the Main Street Gallery in Huntington through Saturday, Oct. 31.

‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ by Cameron Matassa, Grade 11, Massapequa Park
‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ by Cameron Matassa, Grade 11, Massapequa Park

Now in its 4th year, “the inspiration for Nightmare on Main Street came from the dramatic holiday Windows at Macy’s in New York City. We wanted to take advantage of the beautiful windows that frame the gallery at the Huntington Arts Council and turn the actual windows into a work of dramatic art,” said Andrea Maire, immediate past president of the Huntington Arts Council.

“Once inside the gallery, visitors would find that even the gallery floors and walls had been treated with similar flair. We chose Halloween because the many possible interpretations of the season would give our young participating artists the most choices in creating their works,” she said.

Thirty-four student artists in grades K through 12 were selected as finalists including Sarah Ansman, Eleana Canas, Kianna Criscuola, Andrew Davis, Katie Elkowitz, Katie Eng, Jessica Garcia, Allie Giordano, Claire Hannon, Jackie Hawkins, Ashley Herkommer, Julie Jankowski, Aisha Khan, Tateana Khokhar, Sarah Kimmel, Tyler Kiser, Lauren Landolfi,  Cameron Matassa, Jean Miller, Ruth Mistretta, Eli Mollineaux, Theresa Moreno, Erin O’Kelly, Martin Perez, Kenya Pinos, Maheen Rahman, Claudia Reese, Nicole Ruiz, Jack Ruthkowski, Jordan Shaked, Dipti Sharma, Michelle Shin, Aidan Spencer and Jeanette Wells.

The exhibit was juried by Michelle Carollo, an installation artist, administrator, teacher and community organizer whose work has been shown across the United States. The recipient of many awards, she was recently a select finalist for the NYC Public Art in Public Schools.

‘VooDoo Doll,’ Best in Show Junior Division, by Jack Ruthkowski. Image from Huntington Arts Council
‘VooDoo Doll,’ Best in Show Junior Division, by Jack Ruthkowski. Image from Huntington Arts Council

On exhibit is artwork that has been inspired by Halloween whether it be ghoulish, gross or somewhat gruesome. “The works in this show capture the true spirit of Halloween, whether it be playful, psychological or physical, the spectator soon realizes the power of the imagination is the scariest of all,” said Carollo in describing the students work.

Two winners were ultimately chosen for Best in Show in the Junior Division (Grades K to 8) and Senior Division (Grades 9 to 12) category. Congratulations to 9-year-old Jack Ruthkowski  of Huntington for Best in Show in the Junior Division for “VooDoo Doll” and Jeanette Wells, an 11th-grader from Northport for Best in Show in the Senior Division  for “Metamorphosis.” Both artists will receive a check for $50.

“The Nightmare on Main Street exhibit continues to draw talented student artists. It is wonderful to see how young people interpret the Halloween theme. The creativity, skill, technique and enthusiasm for the show are all part of what makes this program so rewarding for us,” said Marc Courtade, executive director of the Huntington Arts Council. “It is our pleasure to provide this opportunity to student artists throughout the community,” he added.

A costume party will be held at the gallery on Oct. 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. where the two winners will be presented with awards. All are welcome to attend this free event and costumes are encouraged. Refreshments will be served.

The Main Street Gallery, 213 Main St., Huntington, is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-271-8423 or visit www.huntingtonarts.org.

An artist paints a picture at last year’s Wet Paint Festival. Photo by Jeff Foster

Gallery North’s 11th Annual Wet Paint Festival is a tribute to late artist Joseph Reboli and is a celebration of plein air painting as well as the gallery’s 50th anniversary. Joseph Reboli, a native of Long Island, was known for his ability to create finely detailed paintings of well-known locations, including local beaches, the Three Village area and Block Island.

Artists of all styles will paint and create monoprints at the Gallery North Campus and the Three Village Historical Society, Setauket, from July 10 to 12, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors to the event will have the opportunity to observe artists as they capture and interpret the area’s natural and historic beauty. Visitors will also have the opportunity to create their own monoprints on site, giving them a preview of the new Community Art Center, which will be launched soon. Two ArTalks will be held during the festival on Saturday, July 11. At 11 a.m. artist Larissa Grass will introduce monoprinting and will give a demonstration where attendees will be able to participate and make mono-prints, followed by photographer Jeff Foster at 1:30 p.m., who will introduce “Improve Your Digital Photography by Using Raw Files”.

All work created by participating artists of the festival will be shown alongside work by Joseph Reboli at an exhibition at Gallery North. A reception for the show will be held on Friday, July 17, with a silent auction, music and refreshments from 6 to 8 p.m.

Artists participating in the 11th Annual Joseph Reboli Wet Paint Festival are as follows:

Judy Auber Jahnel, Svetlana Ballot, Rose Barry, Sheila Breck, Natalie Carbone, Alaine Chamberlain, Granville Fairchild, Greg Furjanic, Laura Goelz, Junee Kim, Alicia Peterson, James Jahrsdoefer, Donna Butcher, Christine DuPuis, Paul Jay Edelson, Denise Faraci, Donna Grossman, Anne Katz, Kathee Kelson, Elizabeth Kolligs, Arntian Kotsa, Linda Davidson Mathues, Muriel Musarra, Paula Pelletier, Susan Pierce Grossman, Joan Rockwell, Joe Rotella, Jeanne Salucci, Oscar Santiago, Sungsook Setton, Barbara Jean Siegel, Angela Stratton, Takami Natsuko, Chris Taylor, Susan Trawick and Marlene Weinstein.

Throughout the year Gallery North presents original exhibitions and offers community events, educational and arts in health care programming and a range of classes suitable for both adults and children.

Gallery North is located at 90 North Country Rd., Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-2676.