Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

New Art Commission will decide fate of proposed art for murals at riverfront


It took City Manager Matt Alexander four weeks to craft a plan about the best way to resolve the offer of murals from a group of waterfront business owners for the ten Water Street arches.  Alexander proposed the creation of a Peekskill Arts Commission and the first task of the Commission will be to make a recommendation within four weeks to accept or reject the offer of murals. 

First though, the Common Council must pass a resolution to create an Arts Commission at their Monday morning Common Council meeting. Council members indicated at their work session on Aug. 14 that they were in favor of such a commission. The newly established Arts Commission would then make a recommendation on whether the proposed murals could be temporarily installed at the arches for a period of 18 months. The timetable for a resolution is in response to the request from the business owners that a decision regarding their offer be made in a timely fashion.

The responsibilities of an Art Commission established by the city, as outlined by Alexander, include the study of municipal goals for the installation of public art; arts & cultural commissions from other municipalities to determine what form of vetting, review and selection process there should be for publicly displayed art; best practices for public art in the city of Peekskill; proposing who should be appointed to the commission; how long they should serve; best practices and methods for the maintenance plans for publicly displayed art and a public arts inventory.

The proposed Arts Commission will be comprised of seven to nine members with representatives from the following organizations, 10566 Arts, Peekskill Arts Alliance, Peekskill youth either from PHS or an 18-24 year old who graduated from PHS and is attending art school or is primarily engaged in producing art, representatives from the Hispanic, African American, LGBT communities who are engaged in the fine arts, a Peekskill business owner, realtor and professional, and a representative of ArtsWestchester or similar county or regional organization. 

The goal of Arts 10566 is to provide free access to arts for Peekskill’s children.

In his presentation to the Council, Alexander acknowledged how the businesses at the riverfront have invested in Peekskill and have a history of being part of the dramatic revitalization of the City’s waterfront. He also cautioned to be mindful of the current murals which were created by Peter Bynum in 2015 for an exhibit at the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art (HVCCA) and intended to be a temporary installation. Alexander noted Bynum’s high pedigree in the art world and the distinction that he brings to the City’s public art scene. “Replacing his work with other work should be thought out carefully,” said Alexander. 

It was at the July 17 meeting where the offer from the business owners was proposed. In summarizing what transpired at that  meeting, Alexander said “there was spirited discussion regarding the art work proposed to be installed by the businesses at their expense. Chief amongst the discussion points was a desire for a process which curated publicly displayed art and an argument that the proposed artwork was too large and “dark” as well as being not evocative enough of what and who Peekskill really is.” 

Close up of the art created by Steve Erenberg. He explained at the July 17 meeting the signifance of the art.

The city manager continued by acknowledging the vigorous social media debate about the appropriateness of the art for Peekskill’s enormous arches. “All of this discussion underscores the power of art to trigger and promote discussion about art. This in itself is not a bad thing and in fact might be a great platform for the City and interested stakeholders to engage the public through charrettes and other input sessions about what is important to Peekskill residents about art.” 

“The irony of the proposal from the riverfront businesses is that their proposal vigorously answers the call from our own Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art that grassroots Peekskill bring ‘contemporary art out of the museum and into the community; specifically into spaces not normally used to present art.’” 

Alexander continued in his remarks to the Council, “I certainly think that this generous offer from Peekskill’s own community is one that should not be dismissed. However, it does call into question how carefully the selection process should be protected from requiring funding only as a selection criteria. I recommend that the Common Council get help with this decision from the art community. It should also be noted that through HVCCA’s oversight, public art was meant to engage the public while curated by people with education about art. The City should remember that HVCCA and the other art organizations have offered great value in terms of selecting appropriate art.” 

The nine proposed images, created by Steve Erenberg, were selected by the Riverfront business owners because of their energy and ability to provoke a strong reaction in the viewer. The business owners united around the idea to fund and bring the art to Peekskill using a local artisan print maker with an impressive resume and background. 

Although it was a Common Council Committee of the Whole meeting and there isn’t a formal place for comments from the public, Erenberg was invited to give a few remarks. “Those arches are sitting for eight years and they’re only supposed to be up for two. We felt we had to do something, as a group down by the waterfront to bring attention to the waterfront. It (the murals) are just sitting fading away,” said Erenberg. 

“You have other murals around the city, very important and large ones that are fading away. I think we’re all focused on shiny new things and forgetting some of the most important things that are in Peekskill. I hate to be crass and say it but it’s a marketing tool for the city to bring people to the city, to bring other artists to the city. I say city, because we’re not Beacon or any of the other towns or smaller communities in Westchester or further north. We’re a city. We’re urban and we have a real mix of personalities and people and I think we’re missing that in the artwork that we’re presenting.” 

Steve Erenberg speaking at Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

Erenberg, owner of Early Electrics on Water Street, said his background is in New York City in the galleries since the 1970’s, and Peekskill’s art just doesn’t feel urban. “It feels safe and suburban, there’s a lot of good art, some great things in town, but as a whole I’m not feeling an undercurrent of a young group coming up, stretching, trying, doing things, experimenting.  I don’t see that and to be a city you have to do that, to be considered a serious art community. You have to decide who you are and if you don’t know who you are, you have to figure out who you want to be as an art community.  You can’t just be a generic art community and be successful at it. You have to decide if you are a Wynwood in Fla. a Beacon or Greenwich Village in 1960.  We have to decide who we are and who we want to be. We have to pick hard and we have to think and talk as if we’re that.”   

Mayor McKenzie thanked Erenberg for his comments and his patience in sitting through the two-hour meeting before the agenda item about the murals was discussed. “We have to remember that the artists really helped to bring the city of Peekskill back and we want to continue that trend and look to new artists and things coming in and open our eyes. I believe this Commission will really help us to do that,” said McKenzie. 


About the Contributor
Jeffrey Merchan
Peekskill native Jeffrey Merchan is a 2022 graduate of Peekskill High School. He is the Collegiate Journalist at Peekskill Herald, funded by a grant from the DJ McManus Foundation. He is currently enrolled at Westchester Community College where he is studying journalism. As the inaugural recipient of the McManus grant, he will be covering city government, schools and feature stories with a focus on Peekskill’s growing Hispanic community.