The Players: Gallerists Kathryn McGuire and Mary Scotti
The Developers: Dave Placek and BDP Holdings
The Matchmakers: Montclair Business Improvement District (BID)
Fresh Air Montclair Exhibitions was conceived as a way for local artists to express a message of solidarity and support.
Sponsored by the Montclair Center BID, their primary focus is storefronts along Bloomfield Avenue and adjacent streets. However, the project aims to include all sections of Montclair Township as additional sponsors come on board. This project's intent is to bring valuable attention to the local creative community, direct retail traffic to existing businesses who may be operating on a limited basis, and re-activate the energy of the vibrant community's economic and social solidarity.
The Business Improvement District (BID)
Jason Gleason, Director of the Montclair BID, learned from speaking to businesses that even when people would be allowed to return, they may be too afraid to come back to businesses in the downtown area.
The BID has always understood the power of the arts. In 2019, it produced a mural program with stunning results that showed how art could energize and beautify the community. As Jason said, “you don’t have to go on the whole sales pitch on why the arts are good for the community here.” With a handful of galleries, museums, an orchestra, and many other nonprofits, the arts and culture scene in Montclair is certainly robust. Having seen the success of the mural program, they wondered how else the town could capitalize on public art to uplift the community and its businesses. Luckily, two community members were working on just that.
When Kathryn McGuire first opened her gallery Clerestory Fine Arts, she was told, “you can’t have a gallery here because people will go into NYC.” Those critics did not understand her community-based model, which included programming for children, performances, and more. McGuire not only represented artists, but she had the knowledge to create meaningful engagement and sustainable art communities.
Early into the pandemic, she was approached by former BID director Luther Flurry to mount an exhibit by one of her represented artists, photographer Armando Diaz. The exhibit portrayed people in quarantine, with the funds going to Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates (SOFIA).
Around the corner, fellow gallerist Mary Scotti was installing a window exhibition at Pure Energy Hair Salon, which was closed. The Salon, which centers sustainability, was interested in showing work that resonated with its values.
BDP Holdings, run by Dave Placek, owns several storefronts that will be redeveloped in years ahead. Placek understood the neighborhood needed some hope and had vacant properties that could be the perfect home for some creative inspiration. He had done public art installations in office buildings in Chicago and in California and has seen the success of another local investor Bob Silver of the Bravitas Group. Silver would put installations in hallways—he would see them as canvasses, rather than blank walls.
Both Placek and Silver had spaces that were vacant and full of potential—but not for long.
Gleason from the BID called Placek saying they had a program for which his properties would be an ideal location. As soon as he said yes, things mobilized quickly – artists were lined up a few days later and the program was formalized by the end of the month.
Sponsorship from Dave Placek (BDP Holdings) and Bob Silver (Bravitas Group) were instrumental in having space and funds.
It was like a museum – groups of people would “tour” up and down the street to view all the window displays. It was as if community members were re-acclimating to being in the space: people would pop into a coffee shop to grab a drink for their exploration or check out a boutique. The displays not only attract viewers to the windows themselves, but they drive foot traffic to adjacent spaces.
With the success of the program, businesses started inquiring about empty spaces. A few even stipulated that they did not want to change the window displays. Artists are asking about creating, property owners asking about displaying, and realtors are interested in the spaces. For Placek, he has seen both qualitative and quantitative value—with work being shown in his properties, he is getting potential customers and his retail tenants are bringing more people in the door.
Fresh Air has worked primarily with local artists, who then help generate even more excitement and friends, families, and patrons flock to support their community.
Fresh Air now has more substantial funds from the BID and are growing the team. They hope to do more community interactive events, artists talks, walks, and outdoor musical performances.
As BDP Holdings embarks on some redevelopment projects in Montclair, it will incorporate art into projects locally, including murals and artist studios.