Bohemian face-off as activists crash Gowanus art party

Bohemian face-off as activists crash Gowanus art party
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

It’s lipstick on a pig.

So argue a group of Gowanus artists and activists who crashed a party on Wednesday celebrating the installation of an art exhibit outside the under-construction 700-unit Lightstone Group development on Bond Street. More than a dozen protesters decried the attempt to beautify the development that they say will crowd neighborhood schools and subways, cause traffic jams, stress already over-taxed sewers, and drive away creative types.

“We wanted to raise awareness that there are already artists living in Gowanus who are going to be priced out by Lightstone,” said Lisanne McTernan, a 20-year Gowanus resident who lives nearby on Bond Street.

The art project covers par of the sidewalk shed along Bond Street between First and Second streets and features work by nine local artists. The initiative was organized by ArtBridge, an arts organization that works with developers to adorn construction fences around the city. The Gowanus event gave artists a chance to speak to passersby about their work, and Lightstone sprung for food trucks to hand out free grub, an organizer said.

But free eats and spruced-up scaffolding did not sway McTernan and other neighbors, who showed up on Wednesday night wearing dust masks with “Toxic Plan” painted on them, and handed out anti-Lighstone flyers. Several hundred people attended the event in all, according to organizers, but one protester said few were actually interested in the creativity on display.

“Most people just came for free food. What a joke,” McTernan said.

The director of ArtBridge tried to distance himself from Lightstone while defending the art installation.

Scheming on a plan and it goes all wrong: A group of activists descended on the Lightstone Group construction site on Bond Street to protest the development — and the new art surrounding it.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

“This project has nothing to do with Lightstone or whether or not that development happens,” said Stephen Pierson, who lost last year’s Council race to represent a nearby district. “Lightstone provided the fence and paid for costs, but the project is autonomous. As long as the development is happening, I don’t see a downside to empowering local artists.”

ArtBridge has been at it since 2008, but Pierson said this is the first time one of the group’s projects has been dragged into a neighborhood battle over development.

Pierson also rejected the idea that beautifying construction sites serves as propaganda for developers and said it felt weird to be protested.

“It’s not comfortable for me to be on this side of it. I’m sort of used to being on the progressive side of things,” he said.

One participating artist said she understands the protesters’ gripes, but echoed the argument that the construction site’s new skin has nothing to do with the massive luxury housing complex coming together inside. The development will sit on a bank of the Gowanus Canal, a federal-government-certified toxic nightmare that floods with sewage during heavy rains.

“The art brings something positive, even if what is going on behind the fence is negative,” said Joelle Shannon, a Cobble Hill artist who contributed three paintings. “I think people rightly feel that it is crazy to build a 700-unit development on a Superfund site, but I don’t feel implicated.”

The Lightstone Group has fought hard to develop the site on Bond Street, which lies on the banks of the Gowanus Canal. Neighbors have complained of noise during construction, and say its elevated foundation will send additional flood waer from the fetid inlet into the surrounding area during the next Hurricane Sandy.

On the fence: An arts organization teamed up with developers to decorate the sidewalk shed around the Gowanus lot where a 700-unit development is set to rise.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhuro‌witz@‌cnglo‌cal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz