Artist paints murals in Bay Ridge to show neighborhood pride during pandemic

June 9, 2020 Jaime DeJesus
Artist paints murals in Bay Ridge to show neighborhood pride during pandemic
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Making Bay Ridge a better place with art.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, urban landscape artist Alicia Degener has tried to bring some positivity and cheer by painting displays on store windows.

Over the past five years, she has painted iconic Southern Brooklyn art featuring subjects like favorite Bay Ridge eatery Pizza Wagon and the Verrazzano Bridge. Several years ago, she took part in the neighborhood’s Storefront Artist Walk along Fifth Avenue, where local artists put their work up in store windows.

Photos courtesy of Alicia Degener

“That was about four or five years ago and I had been working with the Fifth Avenue BID with a few different projects,” Degener said. “They were trying to get Fifth Avenue the way Third Avenue is with Summer Strolls and stuff like that. I’ve always had a good relationship with them.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Degener decided to do something creative.

“When the pandemic started, I was very depressed,” she said, “so I started putting my art up on Bay Ridge Facebook pages just to show images of the neighborhood, and every day I would post a different picture in the neighborhood. I’ve lived in Bay Ridge since 1997 and I’m an urban landscape artist, so I paint what is around me mostly so I have a lot of images of South Brooklyn. I paint a lot of Coney Island, brownstones, bridges. So I posted a new picture every day and I got like 200 likes and people commenting, thanking me and saying they look forward to my posts every day.”

After locals said the art was a positive distraction for them, Degener, who was born and raised in Detroit, decided to expand her talents around the neighborhood.

“I contacted Amanda [Zenteno], who is head of the BID,” she said. “I wanted to create inspirational messages and art just to make people feel better. Businesses are open, we are in this community together and we are a tight-knit community. She sent a letter to people in the Fifth Avenue BID, store owners.”

The first merchant to respond was Bubbles & Suds Laundromat owner Omar Kasi.

Photos courtesy of Alicia Degener

“He has been an early supporter of mine,” Degener said. “I painted all three of his laundromats years ago, so I was happy to work with him again, and we’ve just been adding from there.”

As of Friday, June 5, Degener has a waiting list of about five places to paint so far.

“It feels great,” she said. “When I did the Storefront Artist Walk, my location was Skinflints. I did windows there and we were having such a good time there. I stayed for three or four years. I was just starting out and didn’t have anywhere else to show my work. They’re just doing some renovation but I will be doing their windows again very soon.”

As a local artist, she sells a lot of her work at street fairs and at Grand Army Plaza.

“I’m used to interacting with the public,” she said. “While I’m painting, they say I’m doing a great job. I want to make it accessible for people. That’s why I’m doing simple things like the Verrazzano Bridge, the Statue of Liberty wearing a mask. Symbols that all Brooklyn people can relate to.”

Photos courtesy of Alicia Degener

She is also scheduled to work on the windows of My Natural Pet, 8318 5th Ave., and The Foundry, 6909 3rd Ave.

“I told her I would do it for two hamburgers over there,” Degener said. They’re really great.”

Soon, she will have painted six storefronts during the pandemic.

Degener said that she was furloughed from her job at the Gap in Union Square and may paint a Statue of Liberty with a mask at a boarded-up store due to continued protests.

“It’s gaining momentum. A pandemic artist as opposed to urban landscape,” she said.

She discussed the importance of the presence of art during the frightening times of the pandemic.

“Doing laundry was a little scary for a while and it still is,” she said. “When you’re stressed out doing something as simple as laundry, it’s nice to have some kind of distraction. My work is  colorful and happy so it makes people feel better and that was the point of it.”

Degener finds Bay Ridge to be a unique and special neighborhood.

“I think Bay Ridge is a true neighborhood and it’s like its own small town,” she said. “Even new people to the neighborhood really embrace what’s going on. They have diverse friends. We always wave to each other. It’s pretty special. They love pictures of Bay Ridge and pizzerias . I have so many people who have bought my art because they live in other places now but they make a big wall of my art where they grew up.

Photos courtesy of Alicia Degener

“I didn’t think Bay Ridge would have interest in art and I didn’t paint any art of the neighborhood until five years ago. Then I realized how wrong I was. They love Bay Ridge and I’m happy to give it to them.”

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