Seeing Riverhead with fresh eyes

Looking out on downtown Riverhead.
Looking out on downtown Riverhead.

Wednesday was a typical morning in downtown Riverhead. Police and EMTs were bandaging up a motorcyclist who’d been struck at the corner of Roanoke Avenue and Main Street, in preparations to take him to the hospital, while further east on East Main Street, women who were walking alone heard the booming jeer of a catcalling street denizen asking them where they were going. The women looked around, but couldn’t see the man anywhere.

Across the street from the newly restored Suffolk Theater were 100 pairs of eyes peering out of the windows of the vacant storefront that had been the Sweezey’s annex, watching the drama on Main Street unfold.

The photographs of eyes  were silkscreened onto blindfolds by Flanders artist Andrea Cote and attendees at East End Arts’ Community Mosaic Street Painting Festival as part of a community art project called “Eyes on Main Street,” a multimedia exploration of what Riverhead residents see when they look at their hometown. Ms. Cote says she hopes the exhibit will give the community a greater sense of both the history and the promise of downtown Riverhead.

Throughout East Main Street’s vacant storefronts are photographs of Ms. Cote wearing blindfolds, each one silkscreened with an image of the eyes of a different downtown Riverhead denizen. Passers-by can scan a QR code on the photograph with their smartphones to access a video of each eye-owner’s perspective on downtown, as in this video of Suffolk Theater director Bob Spiotto below:

Bob Spiotto from Andrea Cote on Vimeo.

The project became swept up last week in the continuing changes to the downtown landscape. Ms. Cote originally set up the main installation in the storefronts at 125 and 127 East Main Street, right next door to East End Arts, but had to move after less than a week there because new businesses (a wine and coffee bar and board game shop) were moving into them.

Eyes look out on downtown Riverhead.
Eyes look out on downtown Riverhead.

The installation will continue through September, with more videos added to its website, www.eyesonmainstreetriverhead.com, throughout the summer. Members of the community are invited to share their memories, anecdotes and hopes for downtown Riverhead as part of the project by emailing andrea@andreaspace.net.

Several events will also be held in conjunction with the exhibit, including a tour of downtown Riverhead’s historic architecture with Richard Wines on July 16 at 5:30 and a laser transfer printmaking workshop with Ms. Cote at East End Arts on Aug. 10 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. In the fall, she is planning an oral history night and a screening of the videos.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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