The murals that brighten the tunnels leading to Gilgo and West Gilgo beaches started as a one-time event to help beautify the beach and bring traffic to a surfing contest. Five years later, the idea has taken on a life of its own.
In July, Chris Kluesener, 24, and a group of artists — mostly friends — completed a mural on the wall of the tunnel that takes visitors under Ocean Parkway to West Gilgo Beach.
It was the latest installment of the mural project, which started by painting a small portion of the tunnel at Gilgo Beach when Kluesener was 18. The following summer, they painted the rest of the wall. The next summer it was the opposite wall, and the summer after that, the ceiling.
“We did a small portion of the wall initially,” Kluesener said. “It was so successful that everyone asked us to come back.”
Kluesener, who grew up in West Gilgo Beach and now lives in Brooklyn, came up with the idea as a way to entertain visitors during a surfing contest at Gilgo Beach. He said the larger idea was that the mural would cover up and help deter graffiti.
“A lot of people were skeptical,” he said. “Everyone, including myself, thought it would be more of an issue, that they would come back and deface the mural. In fact, that did not happen.”
Kluesener said the project was made possible with donations of money or supplies from the Town of Babylon, which operates Gilgo Beach; the West Gilgo Beach Association, which operates the private West Gilgo Beach; and the Unqua Corinthian Yacht Club. Community members also donated money, and the artists donated their time.
Ron Kluesener, Chris Kluesener’s father, said he was the biggest skeptic of the project when his son first proposed it to the town, where Ron Kluesener serves as chief of staff. He said he was sure the murals would attract more vandalism, but his son convinced him it was worth a try anyway.
With both tunnels remaining graffiti-free since they were painted, “He taught me a lesson I will never forget,” Ron Kluesener said.
Jack Brooks, president of the West Gilgo Beach Association, said Kluesener and his crew got the whole community involved.
“I think they’re spectacular,” he said. “It not only brightened up the community and the under pass, but it coalesced the community. There were 20 to 30 people -- kids and stuff like that -- all helping out. It brought a lot of pride down there.”
Chris Kluesener said the most recent mural was especially important to him because it shined a positive light on the Gilgo community, which has been in the spotlight since multiple bodies were found in the brush off Ocean Parkway in the area late last year.
Kluesener, who is applying to business schools, said he’d like to replicate the project elsewhere. The team is already looking for an open wall for next summer.
“We’ll keep finding bigger walls and more artists,” he said. “The idea is 10 years out, this can be something really impressive.”
Peter Bragino, of Copiague, was lead artist on the West Gilgo Beach mural project and produced a video of the five-day experience.