Atlantic Avenue will once more turn into a huge, bustling public art gallery this weekend with the return of the Atlantic Avenue ArtWalk.
From May 20-28, artwork from more than 100 local artists will hang in local cafés and storefronts, and art-loving Brooklynites need only take a self-guided stroll down the avenue to get their fill. The event is totally free, but much of the work on display will be for sale to interested buyers — and, of course, attendees are welcome to purchase goods from the stores they visit along the way.
“The thing about this is that it brings people into the businesses,” said Karen Zebulon, who organized this year’s event on behalf of the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation. “It also is, I think, very in line with the image of Atlantic Avenue as a very creative place.”
Zebulon is a small business owner herself, and has run Gumbo, an eclectic store featuring a mix of goods created by artists and artisans, for 21 years. Many years ago, a similar art walk took place on Atlantic Avenue regularly, she explained, but it eventually died out. During the pandemic, three organizations — the AALDC, Arts Gowanus, and the Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District — came together to revive the event as a COVID-safe way to support local businesses and artists. This year, Arts Gowanus and the BID couldn’t take part, so the budget and planning team were both smaller than they have been in the past.
Still, more than 60 businesses on a 1.5 mile stretch of Atlantic Avenue from the waterfront to Fourth Avenue will take part, showcasing work from close to 150 artists, Zebulon said. A local development company is even allowing the org to use an empty storefront at 535 Atlantic Ave. for a group show.
ArtWalk isn’t just about bringing people into businesses, of course, but about celebrating local artists and connecting them with their communities. Two groups in particular are being highlighted at the show — the Brooklyn Watercolor Society and Professional Women Photographers, who will be hosted at 376 Atlantic Ave. and 349 Atlantic Ave., respectively.
“Any time you can show your work, whether you sell or not, it’s out there,” said Linda Buongermino, a member of PWP and another longtime ArtWalk participant. “Putting your name out there, putting your face out there, putting your photos [and] artwork out there, it works. And people do buy.”
Even if they don’t buy on the spot, she added, potential customers make note of what they like and come back later — last year, a buyer reached out to Buongermino six months after she exhibited at ArtWalk to purchase a photo.
The PWP exhibit will feature a selection of works from a show they hosted earlier in the year at El Barrio titled “American Album,” which asked artists to explore what the U.S. means to them. During the two weekends of the show, volunteer photographers will sit in the gallery to chat with Brooklynites about their art and the message behind it.
The team is using artwork with a strong message in another exhibit, too – on May 21, 27, and 28, the YWCA will host a special multimedia exhibit on endangered species in partnership with the Wild Tomorrow Fund. There will be lectures and presentations on the importance of conservation, Zebulon said, along with art submitted by professionals and by local schoolchildren and even kids’ art workshops and a special dance performance.
“My philosophy behind it is the fact that art can generate discussion, that it can educate on broader issues, important issues,” Zebulon explained. “That’s what this is doing, this is using art to educate and engage in important discussion.”
The endangered species exhibition and the group show at 535 Atlantic Ave. will only be open on weekends, but other than that, the art is on display all day long, as long as the participating businesses are open — and even when they’re closed, most storefronts will have at least a piece or two hanging in the front window, on display 24/7. Participating shops will be marked with a green flag starting on Saturday, and a full list of artists, storefronts and addresses is available online — and physical maps will be available once ArtWalk officially kicks off.
“It’s a wonderful day out to go in and out and see fantastic artwork,” Buongermino said.