Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

City offered gift from waterfront businesses

Council asked to accept 10 art murals

The wisdom of Solomon will be needed by the Common Council as they make a decision to accept or reject a gift being offered by a group of business owners in the waterfront neighborhood. The gift is new murals for the 10 arches supporting Route 9 next to the Peekskill Brewery. Because Route 9 is a state road, the Department of Transportation needs the Common Council to approve any art that goes on the arches. 

At Monday’s Common Council meeting the owners of several businesses on Water Street proposed replacing the fading murals, named LIFE and created by artist Peter Bynum in 2015 as part of the Peekskill Project. The murals are on the ten 35-foot tall panels that border a city commuter parking lot across from Homestyle Bakery on Water Street. 

The ten arches bordering the city owned parking lot. (Photo by Regina Clarkin)

Bre Pettis, owner of Bantam Tools, told council members how the idea originated to replace the fading LIFE murals. The group of business owners, Keith Berardi of Peekskill Brewery, Steve Erenberg of Early Electrics and Pettis along with other business owners in the waterfront, were meeting regularly to plan the May Historic Peekskill Arts and Music Festival and in those discussions they came up with the idea to replace the eight-year-old LIFE murals. Erenberg, who had a career in marketing, is also an artist.  He drew the images that the group is proposing to give to the city. 

Close up of the art created by Steve Erenberg

“We wanted to show them to the council and have you cogitate on it as a group and see if it was something that works in your vision of Peekskill.  We’ve got to come up with some money to make it happen so it wouldn’t be a burden on the city,” Pettis told the council.  Erenberg said the cost would be in excess of $30,000 and they’ve raised most of that. 

Erenberg explained his background to the council and described how the images came about. Before owning Early Electrics he had a 35-year career as an advertising marketing executive where he created personalities for communities. He said he wanted to do something to change thinking or bring attention to Peekskill. “The arches are so visible and whatever you put there will create a buzz and that’s how you develop interest in a community. It’s not so much by advertising or public relations.” It’s buzz, people talking about it. The train goes by how many times a day with how many thousands of people and they see something quickly and they look for it the second time they go by. It becomes important to bring people to the community and to turn heads. They say ‘something interesting is going on here and I want to find out more.’” 

As a 14-year-old Erenberg visited his great aunt who ran a ball throwing stand on Coney Island where people paid a quarter to get three tries to knock down dolls that were lined up. He spent a summer setting up the dolls. 

Fast forward to his adult years when he started collecting the dolls for his antique business and learned they are primitive or outsider art. His research showed that knockdown ball characters have been around for 100 years and the characters keep reappearing. They are meant to be seen next to each other lined up. 

One of Erenberg’s works of art on the Peekskill Coffee House that was selected by the Peekskill Arts Alliance. (Photo by Regina Clarkin)

Erenberg and the waterfront business owners were quick to point out that because of the city’s Request for Proposals for a building on the city’s parking lot in front of the murals, this art installation would be temporary. Because of that timeline they were strongly encouraging the council to make a quick decision on this gift they are offering. 

The second of three pieces of art  by Erenberg on the exterior of Peekskill Coffee House. The third image hasn’t been installed yet. (Photo by Regina Clarkin)

“Time is going by. We are presenting a package to you for your approval. If it goes under a long, laborious review it’s not going to happen. We just don’t have the time. A building is going up there in a year and a half. It’s a gift in a way. If it’s not appropriate for the group, we understand that and it just won’t happen. Anything that goes into full review, there’s just not enough time. Thought we’d jump in with this and do something interesting for a short period of time and see how it goes,” said Erenberg

Members of Peekskill’s art community had a strong reaction to the proposal, centered around the lack of formal process regarding the arches. 

Robin Kline, president of the Peekskill Artist Alliance (PAA) explained how the PAA and Hudson Valley Museum of Contemporary Art (HVMOCA) have been working as a group with a curatorial committee that reviews all the people who apply to put public art throughout Peekskill. The group selects the art that suits the location and relates to the rest of the art in the waterfront district. “I think it would be unreasonable to not have the same degree of scrutiny and evenhandedness for these arches as well. There needs to be a process. Let’s look at what else can be there and have people review them and come to a decision about what works best to present Peekskill to the world,” said Kline.  

Artist Larry D’Amico said he doesn’t “have anything against Steve’s work. It’s of high quality but the scale of these pieces in that particular spot is terrifying to me. I get the sense of humor behind it. They are scary images when you think of them as 13-15 -20 feet tall. My concern is this is a very profound statement when you’re coming into Peekskill and I don’t think it’s actually greeting people with what we want to put out there right now,” said D’Amico.   

Common Council member Dwight Douglas suggested the community view them by setting them up in the library in the gallery space so that people will know what’s being proposed and have an opportunity to voice their opinion. He said it will be very interesting to see how colors that vivid will take to that large of a scale. 

Drew Claxton, a business owner downtown, said she thinks the artwork is great but the artwork at that size is very dark. “Some of the pieces say ‘hit me’, ‘stop me. ‘I realize they are carnival characters but does it represent Peekskill and our waterfront, is it what we want? Maybe it is. It’s a little dark, and yes, a little scary. If I was to be walking by there, I don’t know how I would feel with these giant characters.” 

Council member Kathie Talbot, who was a member of the art evaluation committee that selected the sculpture at Peekskill Landing and the Southern Trailway, offered the idea that another evaluation committee be formed with a broad range of people including from outside Peekskill.  “We need an art commission for Peekskill. We don’t want to lose the momentum we have and we also want to keep open to new ideas. These pieces remind me of Keith Haring, he’s an artist that started out doing graffiti and now his art is in the Museum of Modern Art. Art is developing and it continues to move forward.”   

Sylvia Lopez Chavez, who lives in Boston and is in Peekskill this week as part of a residency through the Center for Digital Arts said she felt compelled to comment. “I’m an outsider but I have to tell you, it’s so refreshing to see art on the outside, on the train. I believe they are beautiful pieces of art. I agree they have this edge, that makes them very contemporary even though they are very old.”  

Boston resident Sylvia Lopez Chavez who is in Peekskill for an artist residency this week commenting at Monday night’s Common Council meeting.

Lopez Chavez, who is a muralist, said that ‘besides the artwork itself I really value that there are groups in this city that come together in a process to review.   Especially when you use contemporary art. There are times to experiment and times to try new things. It is also a time to not hinder but to move forward with new ideas, to see how the public reacts. It’s incredibly surprising how we may have certain ideas of what this looks like or what we believe the city is or should be represented as, but a small group of people. may not be representative of the entity of the city.”    

She added that she feels strongly about the ability to allow serendipitous art to show up and test that as well. I think it’s important in different communities, it doesn’t matter where, that the voice of those, whether it’s a small group in one section or another group, that  there is tolerance and ability to flex.  

Councilman Brian Fassett wanted to remind the audience that “just because we have a Request For Proposal (RFP) going out for that lot absolutely does not mean in the next two or three years that we are going to develop that lot. The idea is to get ideas and concepts of what eventually could be on that lot. Those arches would be seen for many, many years. Those arches belong to everybody in Peekskill. I would like to see a little bit of process –  the public, a committee or jury could look at this. It has nothing to do with the artwork. The process is a little confusing as to where we are at the moment,” said Fassett. 

City Manager Matt Alexander said they would be discussing the offer at the next Committee of the Whole meeting on August 14 with input from the city’s staff.  




About the Contributor
Regina Clarkin
Regina Clarkin, Editor and Publisher
When the Peekskill Herald weekly newspaper ceased publishing in August 2000 it was the first time in the history of the city that there wasn’t a local newspaper.  The award-winning weekly was often referred to as the ‘glue’ of the community. Founded on January 9, 1986 by Regina Clarkin, Kathy Daley and Rich Zahradnik with a $7,000 credit card line, the paper filled the void created when the daily Evening Star was sold to Gannett and moved out of town. Founding publisher Regina Clarkin continued to live in the Peekskill Cortlandt area and turned her attention to other life endeavors.  Through the ensuing 19 years, Clarkin was frequently stopped in town and asked when she would start up the Herald again. In January 2019, Clarkin decided it was less labor intensive to deliver a weekly blog than a print newspaper so she began posting one story a week about life in Peekskill. After a successful crowd funding campaign in 2020, the Herald was incorporated as a non-profit corporation in July of 2021. Peekskill Herald is a digital relative of the former print edition, featuring many of the favorite aspects of the beloved Peekskill Herald such as old pictures, personality profiles and well written stories about newsworthy events. Regina Clarkin is the editor and publisher of the site. Photo by Joe Squillante