YONKERS, N.Y. – Appreciation for the cultural aspects of art is nothing new to Yonkers.
But many have said a transformation began in the mid-1990s and continued a decade later as developers and city officials looking to revitalize the downtown recognized the value of a vibrant art scene.
Today, the effects are noticeable as the presence of arts throughout Yonkers has grown, albeit slowly, Yonkers sculptor Vinnie Bagwell said.
“From yesterday to today, the arts have really begun to thrive,” she said. “The downtown waterfront district began to have life.”
Earlier this month, ArtsWestchester released a study that found the arts had generated over $156 million in economic activity throughout the county in 2010. While such numbers for Yonkers are unknown, many say the effects are quite obvious.
Thousands descend upon the city for events like Riverfest, breathing life into area businesses.
“The various things down here, the music entertainment and activities, they are driving foot traffic in the downtown,” said Steve Sansone, executive director of the Yonkers Downtown Business Improvement District.
Still, some say the city has room for improvement, particularly in the visual arts where there lies a largely untapped field of potential.
“There are over 150 artists either working or living in Yonkers and they are largely under the radar,” said Luis Perelman, director of the Blue Door Gallery.
Bagwell said she often visits places like Memphis, Tenn., and Burlington, Vt., waterfront towns with a thriving visual arts presence that contributes to the economic base, and finds herself comparing them to Yonkers.
“I thought ‘why can’t Yonkers be like this?’” she said. “To be honest I don’t know why it’s not growing at that level here, but I think it’s possible.”
With state and city resources hard to come by, many artists are struggling to find the funds to pay for their work, Bagwell said. And without money, it’s difficult to produce.
“Art is culture and culture is what makes places great to raise kids, great places to retire, great places to vacation,” she said. “People want to go places where they are entertained and come away feeling good.”
Yonkers may yet grow into a haven for the visual arts. In March, the YoHo Artist Studio welcomed its first permanent gallery and executives envision a scene in Yonkers that rivals New York City neighborhoods like Chelsea.
“I am very optimistic on things in Yonkers," said artist George Pali, a Yonkers resident. “All downtowns have problems but when art steps in and design tends to improve, the quality of life no doubt gets better.”