Gritty arts scene grows in industrial Boynton Beach niche

Artists and auto repair shops coexist in a gritty landscape on West Industrial Avenue with the din of Interstate 95 nearby.

But painters, sculptors and other artistic types are creating a buzz all their own.

An alternative contemporary art scene has quietly been growing over the years amid rows of warehouses where rusty bulldozers serve as easels for artwork; where abstract metal sculptures complement the industrial strip; and where a shaded sitting area next to a studio gallery offers a homey nook as big trucks zoom by.

“This is raw; this is edgy,” city public-art administrator Debby Coles-Dobay said.

Now, Rolando Chang Barrero, a Miami artist who left that saturated market for more-affordable Boynton Beach, is spearheading efforts to create a more vibrant scene that draws more people.

He envisions “the district” evolving into a community where all convene for a cultural exchange of ideas; where paintings, sculptures and photographs are showcased alongside performance artists, dancers and poets.

“This is the place for a hyper-intellectual academic to break bread with a surfer dude and chat about what art is,” he said. “It’s creating an art experience akin to what was called a ‘happening’ in the 60s.”

Barrero is launching his ActivistArtistA gallery on Nov. 11 with a gallery walk through the district, involving a handful of working artists who already set up there. Works from other collaborating artists also will be shown during the walk, which Barrero hopes to make a regular event.

The city designated the Boynton Beach Neighborhood Arts District in 1989 when the area was far grittier and was a dumping ground for old appliances and other junk. Since then, artists have come and gone, but new blood re-energizes the area, said Richard Beau Lieu, who petitioned the city for that designation.

“You can’t grow a city without art,” said Beau Lieu, who owns Neighborhood Gallery, “Every major city is loaded with art.”

Barrero’s enthusiasm is infectious, fellow artists say. And those who aren’t artists still are supportive. The air-conditioning business donates wooden crates from A/C parts for scrap material for artwork, and and a local auto body shop helped repair a damaged sculpture.

“There’s new creative energy. It’s very exciting and very stimulating. You can get caught up in it,” said Sage Neighbors, a scenic artist who’s had her studio in the art district for nearly a decade and paints sets for Miami City Ballet and Palm Beach Opera.

More artists want in, Beau Lieu says, so he calls them up whenever a warehouse empties out and space becomes available.

Denny Reed, a new painter who opened a studio there in the spring, said working collectively and showing great zeal is a recipe for success.

Age, race, ethnicity or economics aren’t barriers among artists and art lovers, she says. They’ll come together simply for the sake of expression and inspiration.

“The whole is much stronger than the parts,” she said, “I’m a big believer in setting intention. And when there’s intention things happen organically.”

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