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Students Create Art in Vacant Spaces

Three vacant storefronts on Mamaroneck Avenue have been transformed with visual interpretations of poetry by students.

For the third year in a row, the School of the Arts has collaborated with the White Plains BID (Business Improvement District) to exhibit Art in Vacant Spaces, an innovative art project in empty storefronts in downtown White Plains.

First launched in 2015, the project has improved the visual appearance of several vacant storefronts, enhancing the overall ambiance and pedestrian experience in the downtown.

Professor Warren Lehrer has once again worked with the graphic design program’s Community Design class to populate the storefronts with visual poetry as part of their pro-bono work for the semester.

The Poetry

The School of the Arts hired poet Judith Sloan to research and interview people in White Plains, and to write site-specific poems for the project that represent the hopes, desires, memories, and soul of people working and or living in White Plains. Sloan wrote poems that would invite experimental and evocative visualizations and collaborations with student designers.

Sloan hoped to address the difficult, “divided” country students and community members are living in. “I wanted to reveal the things that are holding communities together including ideas around what it takes to create a community and maintain a community,” says Sloan.

The students in Lehrer’s class visualized the poems using typography, image, shape, and color, then refined their solutions before making final presentations.

The Visual Interpretations 

For the first time, the project included second floor windows. For her setting of the poem Recipe for a Loving Community, Madeline Friedman designed suggestive silhouetted scenes for each of nine sets of second floor windows at 131 Mamaroneck Ave, “inviting the public to engage their imagination and enter the world of the inhabitants.”

Recipe for a Loving Community by Madeline Friedman '18Recipe for a Loving Community by Madeline Friedman '18

For the trilingual poem I’m Here, Kelly Mertz interwove the different languages into line drawings of buildings as a way to evoke the diversity and co-existence found in White Plains.

I'm Here by Kelly Mertz '18I'm Here by Kelly Mertz '18

Hailee Knadle’s eye-catching interpretation of New Rhythms celebrates the seasons of life cycling through time via evolving shapes and vibrant colors.

New Rhythms by Hailee Knadle '18New Rhythms by Hailee Knadle '18
Community Design

According to Lehrer, “This class enables senior graphic students to work on projects with real clients, collaborators, budgets, deadlines. But the scale of this project is especially exciting for the students. And I like that it engages students to think about poetry, and issues having to do with community and public art.”

The White Plains Storefront Project was one of five projects the Community Design class worked on this semester. Other projects include a public art project for the Harrison Public Library, a catalogue for an exhibition of activist graphics, a poster campaign for WESPAC’s Westchester Social Forum, and campaigns for Purchase College’s Natural & Social Science symposium and lecture series.

Lehrer received a 2017 Design Educators Award for the White Plains Storefront project from Design Incubation, a national organization that fosters dialogue between design educators, and grants awards for excellence in teaching and research.

White Plains Appreciates Creativity and Collaboration 

White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach says, “This initiative between the White Plains BID and SUNY Purchase Community Design students showcases a creative and collaborative approach to public art in an urban setting. The work has enlivened our streetscape and created inspiring and thought-provoking messages about community and place.”

Brittany Brandwein, the Director of Events and Business Promotions for the White Plains BID and the project manager says, “Collaborating with property owners, City Hall, artists, and students is the essence of the project and exemplifies the unifying message we have portrayed in the artworks. For the second year in a row, we incorporated the free downloadable app Otocast into the project that gives viewers detailed information about window designs from all three years that are currently on view.”

The White Plains BID appreciates the City of White Plains for their support, and for the generous sponsorship from LANline, Burke Rehabilitation Hospital, and the Eugene & Emily Grant Faculty Incentive Fund.