100 GATES Turns LES Storefronts Into Works of Art
Natalie Raben talks the ambitious public art project.
Lead photo Nina LoSchiavo. Michele Olivieri @ 88 Delancey Street Artwork by Billy the Artist
The 100 GATES Project is a big idea wrapped in humble beginnings. Last summer, pro skater (and the mind behind Samurai New York) Billy Rohan and artist Jessica Blowers had an aha-moment. Why not get 100 different artists to paint some pep in the step of the otherwise dull roll down security gates of businesses throughout the Lower East Side?
So, with the blessing and guidance of the LES Business Improvement District plus a pocketful of hard-earned grant money, 100 GATES was launched, linking artists from within the neighborhood and the international community with business owners between Delancey and Canal and Essex and Allen.
The project’s goal is nothing short of a full takeover. 100 GATES aims to create one of the world’s largest open-air art galleries—totally free of charge. And the who’s who hitting those metal canvases—HEKTAD, Claw Money, Joseph Meloy, Buff Monster, Mr. Stash, Lädy Millard, and Fumero (just to name a few)—definitely add plausibility to their super-sized ambition.
We recently chatted it up with the 100 GATES Project Manager, Natalie Raben, dishing on playing matchmaker between artists and LES business owners and all the particulars of the neighborhood beautification project.
Red Mango @ 145 Allen Street Artwork by Claw Money + Miss 17
Mass Appeal: You’ve worked spearheading public art in the area before and currently work for the Lower East Side Business Improvement District. 100 Gates sounds like a marriage made in heaven for you.
Natalie Raben: Well put! This is a dream project, and the experience of watching it all come to life is beyond rewarding. Working with so much talent and seeing immediate and tangible results is certainly something else.
What’s the origin of the project?
In summer 2014, local artist/skater Billy Rohan and artist Jessica Blowers began going door-to-door asking businesses in the LES if they could paint their gates.
I met Billy while I was working on a different public art project in the LES, Modern Tapestry by Kim Sillen, which is an 1,800-square-foot asphalt art mural located at the intersection of Division, Ludlow, and Canal Streets. Here, we connected about public art in the neighborhood and discussed the 100 GATES Project. Because of my role working as Director of Marketing and Communications at the Lower East Side Business Improvement District, which is a [nonprofit] organization responsible for marketing and economic development in the LES, I have access to a variety of different grant channels and funding opportunities. I included the 100 GATES Project in a grant proposal to the city for a competition called the Neighborhood Challenge, where we went up against 80+ different neighborhoods and were one of seven projects selected to receive funding for this economic development project. In January 2015, our funding announcement was made, and that’s when the LES BID took over formal operations of the 100 GATES Project.
Avant Garde @ 319 Grand Street Artwork by Mr. Stash
How are artists selected?
In February of 2015, we launched an open call for artists and received an overwhelmingly positive response from interested talent. At that time, I worked with Billy to whittle down the first round of confirmed artists. We wanted to select a broad swath of artists, encompassing a variety of different styles. It was also important to work with as much local talent as possible, such as applicants coming from the Con Artist Collective, a local collective and shared artist workspace on Ludlow Street. We locked in about 60 artists and soon switched gears in order to focus on the next phase, assigning gates.
What goes into playing matchmaker between an artist and a particular business?
Thank you for noticing our top-tier talent! And that is a great question: approaching the matches between business owner and gates certainly caused the most sleepless nights. Knowing that installations would not be able to reasonably commence until the spring/summer, I spent the winter reaching out to public art aficionados to seek guidance and advice on how to successfully execute this project. During this, I was told that many of these connections could be made based purely on happy accidents, for instance, if an artists specializes in pet portraits, match them up with a pet shop. A light bulb went off in my head, and I used this as a guide to make the connections. For example, The Sill is a plant shop located on Hester Street, so of course it would make sense for them to be paired with Ida Noelle, an artist that specializes in large-scale tree murals. Many more connections of this nature soon became realized in this fashion.
Bondy Export Corp @ 40 Canal Street Artwork by Buff Monster
The gates are a collaboration between artist and owner? Is the work sprung from a shared vision? What’s that process like and how hand’s off is the project (as an entity) during that creative gestation period?
This is probably the most fun part about the project. Well, one of the most fun parts. First, a business owner is presented with a portfolio that includes examples of artwork from 100 GATES Project artists. Then we work with the business owner to select an artist that has a style that would be an appropriate fit for his/her business. Next, we bring the artist out to meet with us and the business owner so he/she can get a feel for the type of business and what it offers. Here we begin a discussion about the collaborative process. All of these have been different and special in their own ways. It has been very interesting to see that many artists are open to seeking inspiration about what the business owner would like to see, and this meeting sparks the beginning of this creative process. The 100 GATES Project is not an advertising project, nor are these commissioned pieces. It is of utmost importance for our artists to have creative freedom to express themselves. However, that being said, at the end of the day we of course want our business owners to be equally satisfied. Therefore, we oversee this conversation to make sure that both parties walk away pleased.
How many gates have been completed to date? How many more are planned?
As of [mid-August], we should be closer to having completed 50 gates with the anticipation of finishing around 75 by September. We have about 30 conversations currently in progress between artists and business owners, all of which will be coming to life in the coming weeks.
Extra Butter @ 125 Orchard Street Artwork by Doug Aldrich
Will this be an annual event? Are the murals ephemeral? Will they be buffed for another iteration next year?
Right now we have $30,000 to complete the project, so we will continue working this year until we run out of this grant money. In order to sign up for the project, we ask that the businesses agree to keep the murals live for at least nine months and are hoping that the majority will keep the artwork up indefinitely. Most business owners have had extraordinarily positive responses to the artwork. We have no plans to buff the murals for another iteration next year.
Would other communities possibly be incorporated into the project or are you LES through and through?
We’d love nothing more than our neighboring communities to use 100 GATES Project as a model to achieve the same public art goals. We genuinely believe that it would be extremely simple to replicate the process of this project in global communities far and wide, not just those restricted to New York City.
Cellini Uomo @ 133 Orchard Street Artwork by Amirmohsen Shaheidari