Downtown ‘Reflextions’ arts initiative gains steam

Downtown Riverhead is in the midst of a slow — but steady — arts revival, one which will soon include a new palette of artistic creations. Vibrant murals promise to bring life to drab brick alleyways on Main Street and dazzling sculptures, reflecting Riverhead’s connection to marine life, will soon capture the attention of residents and tourists. 

A large portion of the initiative will be aimed at enhancing Reflextions: Art in the Park, a long-running series of installations sponsored by the Riverhead Business Improvement District and funding from state and county revitalization grants.

“I’m glad this is getting done. It will be a tremendous asset to our town as we become more artsy and cultural,” said Town Supervisor Tim Hubbard. “The more we can do for local art, the better. It will help transform our image and that’s the direction we’re heading in.” Mr. Hubbard added that the project will attract more visitors and help make downtown a more family friendly destination.

Grangebel Park, which already features illuminated sculptures of an octopus, a submarine and a boat, will welcome three new pieces in the next few years. And the shipping container on the south side of the park, which right now is painted with angel wings, will be refreshed with a mural of a native bird, either an eagle or osprey.

“What we’re doing will create an artisan feel for Downtown Riverhead,” said Bryan DeLuca, director of operations at the Long Island Aquarium and president of East End Tourism Alliance. “We’re providing free public art.” Mr. DeLuca and two other artists are collaborating with engineering students at Stony Brook University to craft a giant mobile made of stainless steel and Plexiglas. It will be placed on the north end of Grangebel Park. 

Artist Clayton Orehek is currently working on two intersecting arcs, 10 feet in diameter and constructed with aluminum and acrylic. “We hope to have that done by this July,” he said. His time is also being spent on a unique piece that will be placed over the park’s bridge. “We’re positioning it high over the walkway, keeping in mind that the river is right there and sometimes it floods.”

Led by executive director Kristy Verity, Riverhead BID is focused on growing downtown Riverhead’s art and cultural scene, with more projects in the works that will not only complement Reflextions, but also leverage imaginative lighting to illuminate dim areas and improve safety and walkability. That idea inspired the BID to install snowflakes and lights on Main Street lamp posts, on display until spring. 

Walking through the tattered red-brick pathway between the Vibes Ink tattoo parlor and Nanci’s Beauty Salon on Main Street, Mr. Orehek provided a preview of what’s to come. “Kristy and I are working on a design that reflects the Peconic landscape and lights up as people walk through,” he said. The hope is that the artwork will also discourage graffiti in the passageway. 

Environmental artist and educator Tony Valderamma has been tapped to incorporate components from the local ecosystem into works focused on teaching people about the plants and animals that inhabit the Peconic landscape, and the impact humans have on the environment. 

The timeline, according to Ms. Verity, is to put the new sculptures for Grangebel Park and pathway project at the top of the list followed by the two new murals as well as refurbishing existing structures like bike racks and trash receptacles. “These initiatives have been in the development phase for years,” Ms. Verity said. “Much of our work is done behind the scenes. We’re incredibly excited to bring our visions to life and deliver accomplishments that the community can see.”

The goal is to extend Reflextions along the Peconic River waterfront to town square, she said. 

“We’re thinking big picture, capitalizing on the beautiful riverwalk, an anchor of downtown,” Ms. Verity said. “It’s all about building community pride. We want people to see and love downtown Riverhead as much as we do.”