Art and Commerce Do Mix
Businesses serve as mock galleries for local painters and photographers to show their work
By Joseph Kellard
Call it an instance of supply outpacing demand, or display space.
While Long Beach produces many artists and photographers, some have long struggled to find places to exhibit their work. Art galleries in town have seemingly closed shop just as soon as they opened, so one alternative has been wall space at local business.
The Coffee Nut Café has been a constant. Nick Meola, a regular at the East Park Avenue java house, said painters and shutterbugs have hung their creations on its walls for some 15 years.
"The Coffee Nut has a clientele who are interested in their fine coffee and look forward to the art on display," Meola said.
Through August, Martie Last had an exclusive display of her nature photos – hung on a high, spacious wall over some high tables and stools – that included a home on a marsh island, an egret with an "s"-shaped neck, and docked boats backed by a fiery-orange sunset.
"It's nice to see other people looking at my photos and reacting to them," said Last, who has displayed at fine arts shows at Kennedy Plaza but few other venues.
She sold some photos while they were at the Coffee Nut for three weeks. Meola once had a list of artists-photographers who wanted to display there each month that stretched 14 months in advance. Now he keeps the list at a more manageable six months and cut exhibit rotations from a month to roughly 21 days.
That wait is still too long for Jessica Hershkowiz, a painter whose colorful canvases of a fish, octopus and turtle share a brick wall with a flat screen TV and other paintings at Sorrento's, an Italian specialty deli on West Park Avenue. A customer, Hershkowitz asked to display her paintings there after she noticed photographs on the wall by a fellow member of West End Arts, one of the few arts groups in town.
Hershkowitz said membership in art groups provides more opportunities to display in places such as the Long Beach Library and the fine arts shows. She once displayed at Evers Place, a West Beech Street gallery that recently closed. Her display at Sorrento's is her first showing at a store.
"That's why I think so many people are getting involved in businesses," she said. "They tried out the gallery but now it's closed. There's a lot of art groups in Long Beach, but it's hard to market your work by yourself."
Hershkowitz and other artists now have another option in Popztarz, a West End ice-cream shop.
Owner Aline Strobl opened last year and started to display locals that she discovered at a boardwalk festival. The photos and paintings that adorn her white walls evoke beach themes: boardwalk benches, multi-colored plastic sand shovels, and wooden lawn chairs on a shoreline.
Since starting her displays, artists who've stopped by for ice cream cones or popsicles expressed interest in getting their work up on her walls.
"We tell them to come down and we'll start rotating the various artists," she said.
Bob McAuley, an East Atlantic Beach resident and West End Arts member, has on display his painting of a window that looks out on to an ocean with a seagull flying above.
Three months ago, McAuley had an exhibit at the Coffee Nut. While none of his paintings sold, for him it is payment enough that he has somewhere to promote his work and name.
"It's difficult to find places around town," he said. "A lot of times places just don't have the wall space to show your paintings."
* This story originally appeared on Long Beach Patch in 2010.