This place, along a stretch of West Industrial Avenue north of Boynton Beach Boulevard, is where Barrero and his ActivistaArtistA gallery – a nod toward his more militant years - aims to spark a thriving arts district. Barrero is pushing to morph these gritty rows of warehouses into a bustling colony, an area where gallery exhibitions, artist creations and art walks someday draw enough foot traffic to even rival Delray's Pineapple Grove and Fort Lauderdale's F.A.T. Village.
Last month, ActivistaArtistA Gallery hosted a grand opening and introduced hundreds of art lovers to the cluster of warehouses with a tour of the district's six other artist studios. The opening arrived after months of bombing social media websites with art district advertisements as well as soft-launching his gallery three months earlier - a moment he called his "make-it-or-break-it-pre-opening-exhibition." The gambit worked: On a rainy Friday night in September, 250 people watched American Idol finalist Donnie Williams perform while admiring the gallery's wall art. And, last month, hundreds more visited ActivistaArtistA to view the dual-exhibit of abstract artists Kim Fay and Robert Catapano.
"I'm broke. I invested all my money in this. I'm trying to entice the community to come here as often as possible. Boynton deserves to have its own arts district," said Barrero, a Miami native and School of the Art Institute of Chicago grad. "I've been very vigilant on Facebook. My background is viral marketing and branding, so I've been getting people to post our gallery logo as their profile photo. To have all these people show up to a gritty warehouse district in a run-down neighborhood to see a no-name like me, that's progress. I'm arrogant enough to say all the artists dig it."
After many of Lincoln Road's ArtCenter/ South Florida artists migrated to Miami's Wynwood Art District in the early-'90s, Barrero left the state for a long hiatus before moving to the less art-saturated Boynton Beach. His marketing blitzkrieg aims to draw attention to his gallery and the six burgeoning painters, sculptors and other local creative types who already lease warehouse space here. It's the most traction The Boynton BeachNeighborhood Arts District has seen since its creation in 1989, said Richard Beau Lieu, the owner of Neighborhood Gallery of Boynton Beach.
When Beau Lieu opened his gallery here in 1986, trash bins and stripped vehicle parts lined the two-lane West Industrial Avenue, morphing the district into an oversized dumping ground. He said he fought Boynton's city council for the arts district's designation, often pestering officials at council meetings until they agreed to tour the area. Beau Lieu and Ray Marcinkoski, the landlord of several district warehouses, later embarked on a massive street beautification project.
"We hauled 17 semi-trucks worth of crap out of there, and that's a whole lot of trash," Marcinkoski said. "Rick Beau Lieu started putting some plywood panels and metal sculptures on the fences to pretty up the area. Art is clean stuff and makes the place look nice." These days, he said he personally calls artist tenants to inform them when a warehouse space becomes vacated.
"Rolando is new blood and new energy, and he wants to take it to the next level. It always takes an artist to ride it out," added Beau Lieu, a 64-year-old Boynton Beach sculptor who's exhibited everywhere from Rodeo Drive to Worth Avenue. "Thank God there's someone here who making it happen. I've been talking to Debby [Coles-Dobay] to see about expanding the district to include the whole block so we're not congested in these six or seven buildings. The ideal outcome for me is that it fills up like Pineapple Grove. More artists equals more traffic."
Despite Beau Lieu's district-wide cleanup effort, however, only a handful of artists have settled into the struggling arts arena. According to Marcinkoski, nearly 90 percent of warehouses along the industrial drag are already filled by interior decorators, carpenters, body shops and woolworkers.
The problem isn't artist interest, agrees Boynton Beach public art administrator Debby Coles-Dobay. It's available space.
She said the arts district also suffers a lack of visibility from Boynton Beach Boulevard and that the area sorely needs redevelopment dollars. The plus side? The warehouses rest inside a CRA district, which means its artist-tenants are eligible for rent subsidies, signage grants and other incentives from the city through an application process, she added.
"This is an edgier and rawer and grittier area and there isn't another one in Palm Beach, and the artists have backing from the city to pursue their art projects," said Coles-Dobay, whose Art in Public Places Program promotes public artworks throughout the city. "Rolando came here because Boynton is an affordable location. Our program is young and we'd like to make it grow, and to fund to help districts like this."
Barrero is hosting Art Walk 2012 on Jan. 26 and a Beat Generation-themed performance art event called "Kero-Wacked: Homage to Jack" on Feb. 27 at the ActivistaArtista Gallery, 422 W. Industrial Ave., Boynton Beach. Call 786-521-1199, or visit