Westbury Arts didn't have a home for its programs showcasing the work of local creators and performers so its organizers had resorted to host pop-up galleries and festivals at local storefronts, community centers and parking lots.
That changed Thursday.
The art organization's new venue opened with a ceremony attended by officials, artists and volunteers who cheered the completion of a $2 million project five years in the making.
"Finally, we are here. And it’s amazing. And my heart is pounding," said Julie Lyon, the organization’s president. " … We are over the moon happy about this."
Westbury Arts, which was created by village officials and community advocates in 2014 as a nonprofit, did not have a physical office and shared a mailing address with the village hall.
Finding a permanent home for the organization emerged as one of seven selected projects after Westbury became the first Long Island community to receive a $10 million downtown revitalization grant from the state in 2016.
Because the newly completed arts center is near Post Avenue, Westbury’s main thoroughfare, officials are counting on it to attract residents and visitors from beyond the village.
"Revitalization is not just about building buildings. … It’s really about creating a community and a sense of place," Village Mayor Peter Cavallaro said. " … Part of our revitalization had to be creating energy in our downtown and creating reasons for people to come for them."
Westbury is also home to The Space, a performing arts center that opened in 2013 on Post Avenue.
The village bought the center's 2,550 square-foot, two-floor facility on 255 Schenck Ave., a former pet-grooming business, for $640,000 in 2018. The renovation cost about $1.3 million, official said. The village is leasing the building to Westbury Arts for $10 a month for the first five years.
With rising vaccinations and low infection rates, the timing of the new arts center's opening is not lost on Cavallaro.
"The fact that, hopefully, things are opening up, mask mandates, social distancing and occupancy capacities are being relieved to a certain extent really helps get the facility up and running and gives people a reason to get out and about," the mayor said.
Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said the pandemic has only reinforced the arts' importance.
"We often think of art as a luxury. And I think, at least in this pandemic, we’ve found that art is also essential," Rosado said. "It’s essential for the community, and it’s essential for our youth."
Lyon said a regular operation schedule has not been decided but the space will be open for art exhibits, performances and classes.
The arts center will host a grand opening from June 11 through 13, including singing performances by two Carle Place High School students and a roughly 10-minute play written by Meagan J. Meehan, a Westbury Arts board member and artist from Bayside, Queens.
Meehan said the center will give the organization and artists like her more freedom to put on shows and programs.
"It means everything to us," Meehan said. It also provides "more opportunities for people in Westbury and even the greater Long Island [and] New York City area to come to Westbury and see Westbury as a beacon for the arts."
YEARS IN THE MAKING
- 2014: Westbury Arts, a nonprofit, was created.
- 2016: Westbury Village became first Long Island community to receive a state’s downtown revitalization grant of $10 million.
- 2018: The village bought the property on 255 Schenck Ave.
- 2020: Work to renovate the building began.
- 2021: Westbury Arts opens its new venue.
SOURCES: The Village of Westbury and Westbury Arts.