It’s not uncommon for storefronts to remain empty during the colder months in Southampton, the quiet eastern Long Island village overrun by beach-bound New Yorkers every summer. But the pandemic has exacerbated the issue, leaving its commercial streets looking like ghost-town versions of their former selves.
Now, the village is turning to local artists to breathe a little life into these tenantless properties.
Last year, Southampton mayor Jesse Warren introduced the Storefront Art Project, an initiative requiring landlords to fill empty storefront spaces with creations from community artists, or else be slapped with a $1,000 to $2,500 fine. The initiative was signed into law by village trustees in July.
Artworks can’t be offensive or overtly political, according to the law, and must be approved by the village administrator or come via sponsorship from the Southampton Arts Center or Southampton Artists Association. A grace period for landlords extends through next month, after which fines will be doled out to nonparticipants.
Among the first fruits of the initiative was a pair of wavelike assemblages made from coat hangers, price tags, and aluminum can tabs by local artist Alice Hope, which went up in the window of what used to be a Chico’s clothing retailer last November. Following that came an installation of photographs by Kerry Sharkey Miller hung in a former J. Crew earlier this month.
“The community has been very enthusiastic about the project,” says Amy Kirwin, artistic director of the Southampton Art Center, which sponsored both artworks. “The installations are providing a safe way for people to enjoy art during these challenging times, and it also benefits local businesses by driving more traffic into the village.”
“Of course the ideal situation would be for all of the shops to be rented, but this is a wonderful alternative in the colder months,” she adds.
Kirwin says three other installations are in the works, one of which—a suite of ceramics resembling baked goods by artist Monica Banks—will be revealed in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, there’s a stack of additional proposals still to sort through as more windows become available.
As of last week, some 75 storefronts on Southampton’s two biggest commercial stretches, Jobs Lane and Main Street, remained empty, according to the Washington Post.