Music floated in the air. Couples dined at sidewalk tables, while people hurried towards their destination or casually strolled nowhere in particular. It was a busy evening on Huntington's New York Avenue as crowds gathered in front of The Paramount for a Saturday evening show. The space next door was humming with activity, too.
Spotlight, which bills itself as an experiential art space, is part bar and part art gallery. Crowds from The Paramount's lobby spill into the street, and then can flow into the bustling adjacent bar, behind which is a spacious gallery filled with experimental, contemporary art. For anyone who's visited a hushed, quiet museum, this is the opposite. It's a separate space, run by The Paramount, connected both by walls and aesthetic vision.
Spotlight's bar is wide open to the street, making it hard to define where one begins and the other ends. Spotlight is free and welcoming to visitors, whether they're coming in for a drink or just for the art. In the gallery, fanciful figures in lavender, green and purple surrounded by swirling geometric patterns filled a massive wall, as the inaugural artist, Elijah Minton, dubbed The Art Alchemist, worked on his latest painting. Surrealism and street art meet in "Inner Alchemy," and there's meaning behind the imagery. "This is going to be a train station," he explained, pointing to the mural in progress. "It's a statement on technology and how it separates people into their egos. ... It's an indirect statement." But it's one that's already connecting with audiences.
Tom and Kate Owens from Stewart Manor were surprised to find the painting session in progress. "We're here to see a comedy show," said Tom. "It's a welcome surprise," Kate added. "You get here early to make sure you can get parking. So it's wonderful to able to come in and see the beautiful art."
"People love it," said Krystin Banko, Spotlight's curator. "The gallery is mostly open at night. It's definitely geared toward a different demographic. Instead of just going to a bar, you go and see art. It's a new way to experience nightlife."
And a new way to experience art. Each exhibition will include a participatory element. It may be a chance to meet the artist, as it was for Ron and Gloria Barnett from Medford who noticed Minton on his scaffolding painting the mural, and went in to take a look. Now, they plan to drop in whenever they're in town.
THE BIRTH OF SPOTLIGHT
Spotlight grew from The Paramount's owners' desire to give back to Huntington, says Banko. "We already do live music and performances, so this was another element of the arts. … It's going to be all over the board in terms of what the artists come up with. We're talking to floral designers, prop designers."
If nature abhors a vacuum, artists adore one. "They're excited," Banko says. "We have the exposure, but on top of that it's the flexibility we're giving them. A lot of curated spaces really take control over the art that's being shown, but we want to give the artists the ability to express what they want."
The second exhibition, which runs till Sunday, is "Suburbia" by Shirley artist Erick Segura. Surface tensions are what drive Segura's abstract paintings; soft, muted tones of gray and tan come alive through vigorous textures. He'll be at Spotlight working on them through the end of the show. "Erick is an up-and-coming artist. His work its more tactile, minimalist and painterly," Banko explains. "He'll be doing live streaming, almost like a performance process. And he also does fashion. He works on clothing, apparel, and he'll be showing that as well. Almost like a pop-up shop."
Exhibitions will change every few weeks, and many will feature Long Island artists. Spotlight will also be part of the Huntington Art Walk on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. "We had no idea this was going on," said South Huntington's Michele Muratelli. "It looked kind of new with open doors, so we said let's go check it out." She and her 20-something daughter, Maci, were taking photographs to send to an artist friend "to get more art people down here," she says. "I think it's cool, I like it a lot."
WHEN | WHERE Opens 4:44 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and noon Saturday-Sunday, The Paramount, 370 New York Ave., Huntington
INFO Free; 631-673-7300, spotlightny.com