Since the construction of KeySpan Park for the Brooklyn Cyclones, there have been several plans to draw more visitors to Coney Island. But many of the small family businesses have not had the funds to refresh or upgrade their properties - until a public art scheme this summer. Judith Kampfner went along to see the changes.
You never get tired of the cyclone.. it's always faster than ever and more thrilling every time.. this ride is sparkling as if it's brand new and it's been here since 1920.
Kampfner: and the paint job on it is brand new thanks to a professional artist Steve Powers who has just finished painting the Cyclone cars. He's worked for Nike and designed perfume bottles and shown his work in the Venice Biennale. But being exhibited at Coney he considers is his greatest achievement to date.
The cyclone got his work for free. Steve Powers is sensitive that he's breaking with tradition because - painters before him haven't had a high profile.
Steve Powers: Employees of the cyclone painted them themselves. it was always done by someone on staff for at least for the last fifty years.... I feel bad cos the guys work I painted over still works at the cyclone: Willy.. I based my work on what he did. .. I made it a little more elaborate
Powers kept to the cyclone's colors but pumped up the design. So it's bold and seductive - a balance of advertising and art. Across the front of each car like fireworks words explode: Astroland. Cyclone. Coney Island.
It's no exaggeration to say I feel very close to this aesthetic that's down here. I've done so much to rip it off and make it my own
The impetus for Steve Powers to bring his brushes down to this Brooklyn outpost was to give back to the area which nourishes him. Artists from Weegee to Woody Allen have been inspired by this concrete playground and the same goes for Powers.
The first time I came here was ten years ago. As soon as I moved into my apartment, I unpacked my bags and came right down here and rode the cyclone.
We're treading the boardwalk.. The whole of Coney Island is a feast for the senses, a bombardment of pop culture. Right here outside a store - a collection of products which could instantly go into a gallery installation. The bouquets of inflatable spidermen and fish and giraffes?
I find these animal inflatables inspiring - I used some in a show I did.
It's worth the trip to see how this last gasp of New York -
Pay the $2 come down to Coney Island - see for yourself.
The skyline a tangle of rides and neon blends into the expanse of the ocean. Make art in this place and the place will mould the art. To this end, Powers has unleashed 25 young artists from across the country helped working with the public art organization Creative Time.Comicbooks, computer icons and graffiti inspired the work at 35 venues on Jones Walk there's wild sculpture of coins and wires above the Dime Toss. At the imaginative Shoot the freak game where a human target hides behind junk, the young artists have created a paint splattered backdrop. The sheer quantity of work makes it an outdoor art gallery says Stan Fox from the local chamber of commerce.
There's a building there with a tattooed baby
.. like a 70's album cover -
.. there's a really lot there that doesn't meet the eye at first I think really that's the most imaginative.. everyone sees something different in art.. but high art and Coney Island - it's a great combination.
You can get here for a stinking subway ride and you know we've reintegrated Coney island and made it look like NY City
Kampfner: That's Dick Zigun who founded the Mermaid parade and runs burlesque on the beach shows. With his Yale drama background, he wants to entice urbane sophisticated audiences and show them that Coney Island is no longer marginal.
It needs to be family friendly but it should have a NY edge.. the rides should play great hip hop by cutting edge NY city deejays .. and it should have great New York city art..and that is what Coney Island has that other amusement parks don't have.
Coney Island should have an edgier feel -be doing .. It makes it cool it makes it hipster friendly. There's rides here, there's a beach here.. there's art here oh boy let's go to Coney Island.
Kampfner. Coney Island had a reputation for violence and decay says Zigun. Things started to improve ten years ago. Zigun who's known as the unofficial mayor of Coney Island is concerned that no businesses get left out of the new facelift.
A lot of people don't see the invisible boundaries in Coney Island that.it's not a centrally managed.amusement park but that's it's a NYC neighborhood zoned for amusements and there's a lot of mom and pop operations.
The signage of small vendors on the exposed Boardwalk is the most weathered.
My name is Joey Clams - that s what everyone calls me.
Kampfner : Joey Clams runs a restaurant on the corner of Boardwalk and 12th.Two young artists from L. A. painted his side wall.
Joey: It's attracted a lot of attention .people took photographs.it's a beautiful old time sign that does Coney Island justice.
Kampfner. A strong man with a drink and full plate points up at - Clam Bar in giant lettering. Joey likes it well enough but the artists didn't factor in his advertising needs. The fact that the clam plate is the selling point is not something that occurred to them.
it would have been nicer if the plate was higher up. JK: You can see the top of the beer Joey: yes the top of the beer and the top of the man's head.
Kampfner: Joey gave his artists free rein but Dennis Vouderis wanted creative control. He owns many amusements including a shooting gallery. But he didn't want graphic reality
There was a couple of words that weren't appropriate to what we were looking for.... we wanted it more family orientated so we took out the guns and violence and the raunchy nature.
Kampfner: Dennis got his way - and Steve Powers saw this as part of the collaborative process.
Every vendor down here is an artist in their own right by their very nature they have carved out careers and lifestyles for themselves. They are beholden to no one .. they all have their own ideas of how they should be looking
Kampfner There's an artificial cap on this as an exhibition. Officially it will close at the end of the summer. Until then visitors can get maps and a list and information about the artists from any of the contributing vendors. But it's fascinating to start off without a map - to see if you can distinguish the professional artists from the regular signs.
A year ago Mayor Bloomberg set up a Coney Island development corporation - to transform it into a year round destination. This art work isn't seasonal - it's rooted here for as along as the individual businesses find it useful - or until the salt and sun destroy it. Check out the exhibit