Middletown business district turning vacant spaces downtown into works of art

In the summer of 2021, the old Schlinz Furniture Company in the North End was repurposed as a canvas featuring three vibrant color paintings of Caribbean musicians and restaurant diners by local artist Pierre Sloane.

Part of the idea is to offset ongoing construction by building decorative walls and murals around the zone and also potentially attract new businesses, according to Gene Alexander, director of the DBD and founder of the Kid City Museum.

“During this period, where there is a lot of turnover in business and sometimes delays in construction, where we can, we take advantage of that opportunity,” she said.

Middletown developer JR Hargreaves is adapting a 20,000-square-foot former professional building, roller rink and furniture store at 545-47 Main St. into a multi-use structure including commercial and residential quarters.

DBD will help build a wall to surround the construction site between the fire station and this one-of-a-kind natural market. Alexander said it will be in place for a year or more.

The project is being funded through a $100,000 grant from the state’s Office of Economic and Arts Community Development secured by state Sen. Matt Leiser, she said. In March 2021, the two discussed how to best use American Rescue Plan Act dollars to revitalize Main Street.

“He was looking for initiatives, when the Covid funding started coming into Connecticut, to help our city and how we could connect artists with empty shops,” she explained. .. creating a gallery experience as you walk down the sidewalk.”

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That money must be used by the end of 2023, so DBD has requested additional funding, Alexander said.

“We wanted to show what a creative and entrepreneurial community Middletown is, so if people come downtown and see these empty spaces, they start to see all the art and tourism potential of Main Street.”

“Having artwork can also bring charm to a space as opposed to an empty store, which people might ignore and walk past,” points out DBD coordinator Sandra Russo-Driska.

Russo-Driska said these are becoming pieces of public art. “It’s not in a private gallery or hanging in a special building, it’s out there for people to see on the high street.”

She noted that this is also to strengthen economic development.

“For property owners, this gives them an opportunity to temporarily improve a space while still making it clear that they are looking for a new tenant,” added the DBD director.

During the eight months prior to construction at 420 Main St., DBD created an imaginary storefront installation in a building owned by Dominic DeMartino depicting Rosie Barber with canines as customers.

A dog, with a cigarette in his mouth, was reading a copy of the Middletown Press. Front-page stories include “Love goes to the ‘street’ dog,” and “On the rise.”

“Business” offered haircuts, chefs and proprietary bottle “hair of the dog”.

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The long-vacant storefront was the location of Rosindo Amato’s plumbing and heating supply store in the early 20th century, according to DBD.

As part of the initiative, 520 Main St., where Sander + Salt was before it moved to the street, was decorated with a hanging that explained the significance of the Beiman family of demolitionists, for whom Beiman’s new medium The school is named. .

It also features two works of art by local artist Patrick Gineau that were exhibited at the school.

“You can look in and see the empty space, and imagine, if you’re thinking of bringing a store to Middletown,” Reyes said.

It shows the hanging with Beman photos along with information, all provided by Jesse Nasta, executive director of the Middlesex County Historical Society.

“That’s the kind of thing we want to do: interesting to read or fun to look at, like a barbershop,” Alexander pointed out.

DBD has been occupying an unconverted Artisan building at 428 Main St. for two years, while construction of the restaurant is underway by developer Dominic DeMartino, of FW Woolworth Co. The former owns the structure.

Alexander said the next special exhibit will feature work by Hignum artist Ted Esselstein. His company, City Bench, uses wood from downed street trees to create handcrafted “furniture from the urban forest.”

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A sound booth is in the works outside the building. When people stop under it, music, poetry and readings will play with the Middletown connection, Alexander said. She added that the city has produced many artists over the years, including Ally Verbal, who co-wrote “Zap-a-de-do-da.”

DBD is partnering with Wesleyan University to organize this project.

Russo-Driska is working with the owners of the RiteAid building at 10A Main St. to get permission to display the historical society photos.

“Especially in our city, a piece of art or a depiction of something historic is definitely more fun and looks more vibrant than an empty storefront,” Russo-Driska said.

“However, we are adapting to the needs of building owners who want to leave spaces that are visible, so we try to strike a balance – what will work for the building owner,” she added.

The storefront project includes the future of the Middletown Commission on a three-window display of arts in the Middletown Adult Education Building at 398 Main St. Peters.

According to MCA president Lee Goodburn, the center will be filled with a large TV screen that creatively advertises current events, with smaller screens featuring scenes from past events.

The exterior two windows will have inside panels created by resident artist Janine Janke, who has a stake in the city’s art collection.

For information, visit downtownmiddletown.com/the-storefront-project.

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