On Bleecker just west of the Bowery artists create art all afternoon. Spoken word poets engage an audience and music keeps the day’s tempo on high energy. It’s the annual Be a Lover Fest where boundless artistic spirit is in the street and sidewalks.
Unseasonably warm and dry, it’s early November and the weather is ideal—a perfect forecast for outdoor creativity where artist friends invited artist friends to make art outdoors. Two other downtown locations witness art in the making by Be a Lover Fest artists.
Festival arranger Konstance Patton chose a mid-autumn date this year to insure that local artists, neighbors and other New York denizens were in town to engage. Last year’s outdoor art fest took place in July in Little Italy.
Von’s Bar on Bleecker became the informal base. “They’re my friends,” says Patton of the perfect partner for a street art festival. For 8 years, this Detroit ex-pat worked there as a bartender. She could travel and always return to a job. “They support the arts. They took care of artists.” And for Konstance, now in NY for 20 years, ““They helped me become an artist.”
The artists fan out from Von’s, their canvases perched on easels or attached to scaffoldings. A DJ with a sound system adds another dimension this year as the sidewalks turned into art studios. Mid-afternoon the poets read, a musician performs.
Painting plein air on the street en masse recalls the street art explosion in June 2020 when protected storefront windows beckoned hundreds of artists to flock to Soho and the East Village to use the plywood window barriers as their canvases.
Then, Soho stores began to reopen, the protective shields dismantled, their displays reexposed through glass.
A handful of street artists discovered on lower Mercer Street and environs some plywood storefronts still intact and inviting embellishment. Migrating there, they continued painting side-by-side every day for weeks. They bonded.
Soho Renaissance Factory
From those months during late summer 2020, seven creators came together as an artistic family, calling themselves the Soho Renaissance Factory (SRF). Konstance Patton was one of those co-founders.
In winter of 2020/21 NoMo Hotel on Crosby gave this group of art collaborators an artist residency, the ground-floor former lounge serving as their studio space. During that time, the resident creators painted their iconic images on the hotel lobby pillars and walls. The artists had a group show of plywood paintings at the National Art Club. They received occasional commissions.
“Soho Renaissance Factory (SRF) is an artist incubator where folks can bounce ideas off each other, plan and execute projects,” says Konstance. “We want to help heal our city with ideas, and rebuild connection with community through creativity.” Some of the artists worked with community groups. There were individual exhibitions.
In January of 2021, the Soho Broadway Initiative Neighborhood Improvement District chose one work from each of five of the SRF artists, reproducing the artworks into banners, and hanging from lamppost tops around Soho to covey the creative artistic spirit of the neighborhood.
Konstance was thrilled to see her iconic goddess images hung high along Broadway. “My art greeted people as they entered into Soho from Houston Street,” she gushes.
This past summer the SRF artists exhibited at the ChaShaMa space on W. 14th St., a space that during their show became a magnet for artists to engage with each other. Exhibitors sold work and met potential clients.
“These collaborations and exposure are so important for our artist community,” Konstance maintains. Of the growing community of artists, collaborators and partners with SRF, she adds, “If you show up, you’re part of our community.”
Of course, most of the original seven Soho Renaissance Factory artists were part of the Be a Lover Fest.
Artists Sole and Manny from SRF, and Blanco and Calicho painted wall murals in Chinatown.
In partnership with the Chinatown Business Improvement District and two building landlords on board, these artists are transforming a whole wall on Christie St. running north from the corner at Grand.
Cast Iron Partner Award
The consistent engagement with art and artists by Be a Lover Fest and Soho Renaissance Factory organizer Konstance Patton is not going unnoticed. December 5, Monday, the Soho Broadway Initiative will honor Konstance with the Cast Iron Partner Award for Distinguished Service to the Soho Broadway Community.
Meanwhile, the many-media artist/organizer looks forward to next year when there will be two Fests, one expressly for children. Additionally, she’s taking the festival to New Orleans.
Konstance also dreams of finding a building in Soho someday to return Soho to its creative roots. She wants a building in the neighborhood that provides an environment to nurture artists where artists can flourish. She punctuates her hopes with, “These spaces are so important because innovation comes from artists’ ideas.”
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.