Arts and music take to the street
By Adam Wisnieski
If you didn’t know any better, you may have thought you were at a street fair in lower Manhattan on Sunday.
Amazingly, you were on Johnson Avenue, between West 235th and West 236th streets, which had been transformed into a booming arts festival with jazz, children’s art workshops, balloon animals, Irish folk music and paintings by Iraqi refugees.
The smell of Liebman’s hot dogs or Blue Bay souvlaki wafted through the air.
“It was not a typical Sunday on Johnson Avenue to say the least,” co-organizer Tracy Shelton said afterwards.
Ms. Shelton estimated that about 2,000 people attended the Riverdale Festival of the Arts, roughly double the amount that attended the fall festival at the Riverdale Neighborhood House.
“I think it’s an asset for Riverdale,” said longtime Riverdalian Lisa Marum, who manned the Riverdale Arts Association booth.
With the street closed off, people walked up and down Johnson Avenue all afternoon to eat food from kiosks in front of local restaurants, peruse artwork, pick up a giveaway from a local business or listen to music from jazz trio 718, rock band Seeing Voices, the Riverdale Choral Society, Riverdale Rising Stars or the Sinfonietta of Riverdale.
Based on the never-ending line at it’s storefront, the biggest hit of the day was Oregano Bar & Bistro. The new French-Latin restaurant gave away free Boquorones Montaditos and Serrano, a small piece of bread with anchovies and ham on it.
Organizers and attendees agreed it was a good idea to show off the commercial hub of Riverdale.
“It’s really starting to move. I think it’s fantastic to showcase [Johnson Avenue] like this,” said Linda Hirlehey, an organizer of the upcoming Riverdale RiverFest.
Some businesses have fled Johnson Avenue in recent years because of what many owners complained were skyrocketing rents. On Sunday, even the empty storefronts did not look so empty, as local artists pinned their art to closed metal gates or windows.
Although some of the artists lamented a lack of sales, the business owners seemed thrilled with the turnout.