The arts thrive in Elmont

Residents host first local art gallery


When Simmonie Swaby visited the West Hempstead Creative Corner in February, she found a place filled with artistic resources for her 6-year-old son. As she watched his creativity thrive in a space dedicated to the arts, Swaby, of the Elmont Muscle Moms community group, wondered why she had to drive to West Hempstead to help nurture her son’s creativity.

While the Elmont Memorial Library did offer arts and crafts classes, Swaby lamented that there was no space in Elmont specifically dedicated to the arts, and neither was there a space for local artists to meet and network. So she got together with the rest of the Muscle Moms, and Elmont created a one-day public art gallery at Belmont Park on May 8.

“This is to send a message that our community is rich in culture and diversity,” Swaby said. “It was wonderful to have a space just for artists, even if it was only temporary, to showcase local talent.”

For months, the Muscle Moms searched the neighborhood and social media to find artists to take part in the gallery. Natasha Welch, one of the Muscle Moms, said the group found numerous painters, photographers, mixed-media and sketch artists willing to showcase their work for the local community.

One such artist was Ann Robert, 34, an Elmont resident who uses her work to donate money to the Education Seed Foundation in Jharkhand, India, which provides children there with the resources they need to succeed in school.

Robert, who works as a respiratory therapist at Cohen's Children's Medical Center, said she never had a passion for art when she was a child, but she did want to help children in need, which is why she works at Cohen’s. Then, about five years ago, when a trip to visit her family in India coincided with a spontaneous wine and painting class, Robert was inspired to sell paintings for charity.

“At first, the paintings looked like something a 1-year-old would make,” Robert, who had no artistic background, said. “But I started to get more into it, and then the custom orders began to come in online.”

Robert now sells her artwork on Etsy, an e-commerce website that focuses on homemade arts and crafts, which allows her to donate about $100 every month to the Education Seed Foundation, and she was more than willing to set up a table at the Elmont Art Gallery, where residents gathered to enjoy her work and even purchase a few pieces. She hopes to raise enough money to start her own nonprofit for children.

This philanthropic spirit resonated with Jude Amsel, the gallery director of the Gold Coast Arts Center in Great Neck, who helped advise and set up the Elmont Art Gallery. She said that a community filled with art becomes a culturally enriched place. She added that it also helps local artists thrive and give back to their communities.

“It’s clear in today’s world that art cannot and will not exist without community support,” Amsel said.

Textile artist William Daniels has firsthand experience when it comes to the power of local galleries. Daniels, a New York City artist who has his own gallery on display at the library throughout May, said the Elmont gallery reminded him of when he traveled to Lawrence, Kan., to exhibit his work at the Spencer Museum of Art. Daniels was originally hesitant about traveling to the Midwest, he said, but the people’s passion and appreciation over his work opened his eyes to the world of local exhibits.

When the Muscle Moms reached out to Daniels about their art gallery after seeing his work in the library, he jumped at the opportunity, but Daniels didn’t have any pieces to display, as they were already up at other galleries. So, in three weeks, he said, Daniels hurried to finish three pieces that he was working on about animal totems for the Elmont Art Gallery. As Daniels explained his brand of textile art, which seeks to further conversations about culture and social justice, he said he enjoys small galleries that bring artists together with neighborhood people.

“Local galleries bring cultural exchanges between people and promote local artists,” he said. “Here you can even have kids engage in actual conversations about the art they’re seeing. These events are important for the community and more significant for local artists.”

This was true for Denise Cardwel, of Valley Stream. Although she has had her paintings up in Boston and Philadelphia, she was nervous and excited to show her work to her neighbors. Cardwel, who goes by Austina in the art world, enjoyed explaining her artwork to the local viewers, who were drawn by her cubist paintings that seemed to mimic stained-glass windows.

As Cardwel, Robert and the other local artists conversed about their work with their neighbors, Welch, who had her own pieces of art on display, seemed satisfied at the turnout. She and Swaby said they were overjoyed that they had unearthed so many talented and giving people in their community. Although Swaby said organizing the event was hard work, she hoped it might be possible to make the art gallery a yearly event.

“We got the opportunity to see talent in our community and have them engage with us,” Welch said, “and it’s nice to know and show that we have creative neighbors right here in our neck of the woods.”