On a quiet strip of Willoughby Street in Downtown Brooklyn, stores stand empty but distinctly different from those on surrounding blocks. In one window, a black cardboard elephant stretches its trunk in the air. In another, an illustration shows a bony woman pushing her head through the breaking ground. This splash of art on an otherwise seemingly unremarkable block raises questions; who made these pieces, and perhaps more importantly, who put them here?
The history of the Willoughby Windows, as the installation is officially called, traces back to 2009. It was then that Metrotech BID, a non-profit organization that focuses on the revitalization of Downtown Brooklyn, got its eye on the vacant block awaiting demolition and contacted its owners. The property’s possessors agreed to let Metrotech, along with self-proclaimed “cultural think tank” Ad Hoc Art, use the space to display the art of fifteen local artists. The idea was not only to gave the local art scene a boost, but to also completely re-create the rejected block which would have otherwise stood grey and vacant. Oddly enough, Metrotech’s interest
in the project has fizzled over the years although the art still stands on Willoughby Street. “[Willoughby Windows] is not an active project of ours,” a representative for Metrotech said when asked for a comment. “The art will stay there until the whole block is demolished in a few years.” When asked why the project is left unattended, Metrotech had no comment.
In a city like New York, where vacant storefronts are something that one comes across quite often, the Willoughby Windows project was a promising change in scenery. While development project often stall for years - as seems to be happening in this case - building sites stand unused. Metrotech has attempted to revitalize the Downtown Brooklyn area for years, and has undoubtedly succeeded in many ways; for example, a campaign targeting the area’s sidewalk cleanliness brought the percentage of “acceptably clean” streets from forty to ninety-five percent in only a few years.
Small projects can easily get trampled by bigger ones, and the rejected art at Willoughby Windows seems to be an unfortunate example. While the pieces still stand under bagel store and dry cleaner signs, they have a hopeless aura to them like animals waiting for slaughter. A graffiti written in delicate cursive on one of the store windows offers an ironic take on the project: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”