By Chris Mellides
Inside the dimly lit dining hall at Campari Ristorante on Northport’s Main Street, Danyell Miller arranges the place setting on one of the dinner tables and takes a moment to admire the artwork of Michael Krasowitz, whose vibrant paintings adorn the room’s walls.
Miller, the new owner of the establishment, makes her way to the head of the room as the sound of a jazz piano drifts through the still air.
Campari is unlike your traditional eatery; it also doubles as an art gallery.
“I’ve always had a vision that if I ever had a public space, I’d want to include a gallery space for artists,” Miller said. “The first month I had it, I had met an artist, and we had a rotating exhibit of local artists every month. There was always somebody new.”
Campari Ristorante isn’t alone: more businesses on Main Street have been dressing their walls with art than before, according to the Northport Arts Coalition. Some of those stores include The Wine Cellar on Main and Caffé Portofino.
Kristy Falango, an employee of Caffé Portofino, admits to not knowing exactly when the coffee house began curating the work of local artists, but that since the practice began, it’s garnered a lot of attention.
“I just think that a lot of people that live in the community like to come in and see pieces of art that represent our town,” Falango said. “It started bringing a lot more people in.”
According to the barista, town residents have several destinations to choose from when they feel like indulging in the arts. Northport has a tradition of embracing the arts, and the village serves as a hub for local artists wanting to introduce their work to the public.
“Anything in the arts is going to enhance the community, and having art in the storefront is putting it out there. It’s putting it out there to the public,” said Isabella Eredita Johnson, founder and former chairwoman of the coalition.
Established in 1998, the goal of the coalition is to create a vibrant hub for the arts and humanities in Northport. The organization works to “inspire and support artists and to help them make connections with other artists and with the larger community,” according to the group’s website.
“I had kind of rounded up a whole group of people from the various arts and we really spearheaded sort of a cultural organization,” said Johnson, “and of course it was filled with musicians, visual artists, poets and singer-songwriters.”
When Johnson resigned as chairwomen in 2006, the coalition had already made significant contributions to the art community in Northport, including Happenings on Main Street, which promotes local street music and gives musical performers the ability to reach a larger audience, and Art in the Park, a free family event featuring artists displaying their photography and fine art pieces.
Down the block from Campari and Caffé Portofino is Wilkes Gallery. The gallery is a prominent fixture in the neighborhood and specializes in custom framing services and the sale of fine art. The business will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year. Its long-standing relationship with fine art publishers gives its owner the opportunity to display and sell the work of renowned artists.
Wilkes employee Linda Frey, who’s starting on her 22nd year with the company, stressed the importance of supporting artists on the local level.
“You’ll come down here in the summer and different artists are set up in different corners painting,” Frey said. “Everybody promotes the locals around here as much as they can.”
In the time she’s been working at Wilkes, Frey admits that she’s seen the local art community change, but believes that Northport’s passion for the arts is still alive and well among young people.
“It seems like even the high school is very into the arts; they promote art there and they do a lot of shows there,” said Frey. “This town is just very big on the arts.”
Echoing that sentiment is Dan Paige, the current executive director of the coalition. He believes that by giving back to the community, he and his coordinators are enhancing the level of opportunity for local artists to receive recognition.
“The major thing is helping artists get their art out there, and then by doing that, we’re serving a purpose of bringing the arts to the community,” Paige said.