There's something strange about the new "kids" hanging around Prospect Avenue in New Cassel.
The child-size ceramic caricatures, described by residents as both "cute" and "creepy," are part of a Town of North Hempstead arts initiative designed to beautify and spark a buzz about New Cassel. Community leaders hope that will draw business and foot traffic.
About 14 of the lifelike figures, done by sculptor David Byer-Tyre and based on area youths, are being populated on Prospect Avenue, one of the hamlet's main thoroughfares.
"Where artists go, development happens," said Vanessa Greene, an organizer from Glen Cove whose company led the initiative. A few of the figures already dot the small "gateway" park at Prospect Avenue and Brush Hollow Road. A bus stop being built in the area will harbor seven more.
Swalm Park, a parcel on Prospect Avenue, will boast a working, 8-foot-tall ceramic water fountain. Organizers said the project was funded by $120,000 in federal, county and state grants.
The public art is an extension of "visioning" talks, begun in 2002 by North Hempstead, to revitalize the hamlet.
"Seeing the art become alive on Prospect Avenue is really going to generate people to start conversations about living in their community and wanting to do more," North Hempstead Councilwoman Viviana Russell said.
"The perception of New Cassel used to be that it's a dangerous place and that it's a place to avoid," Greene said. "We're working to change that by infusing Prospect Avenue and the community with the arts."
Several residents have become familiar with the figures, which Byer-Tyre of Great Neck said are caricatures of area youths he has photographed.
Strolling Prospect Avenue on Friday morning, Siobhan Saunds, 28, said she began noticing the figures at the community center. "I kind of thought it was weird; it freaked me out," she said. "It's different; I wouldn't expect that out here."
Floyd Lindsey, a 41-year resident, said he was skeptical art would bring change. "I'd prefer seeing flowers than people."
Dora Paris, 22, said she has come to see the figures as charming. "If it's dark outside, they look like real kids. At night, it's going to be creepy."
Public art has emerged nationally in recent years to reflect the theme of a particular city -- such as fish in Baltimore. Pat Matthews, of the William Floyd Community Summit, brought 23 bronze statues to Mastic, Shirley and Mastic Beach. "Every now and then, someone will tell me how gross they are," she said.
Byer-Tyre said he depicted characters of various ethnicities in nonstereotypical ways.
And to avoid confusing bus drivers, figures at the bus stop have lighter pigments than real people.
"I didn't want the bus to stop if there [were] no people standing at the stop," he said.