Sun Sentinel : Palm Beach Society Scene
Is it by luck or design that the acronym for the Boynton Beach Arts District is B-BAD? Rolando Chang Barrero, 51, a figurative abstract artist and one of the driving forces behind the arts district, may be the baddest of them all.
A dynamic personality and a graduate of the Chicago Art Institute, in 2011 Barrero rented an old warehouse in the industrial district off I-95 and has slowly and steadily transformed the neighborhood.
"If you build it, they will come," Barrero quips. "They are coming, and I have slowly built it."
Built in a formerly blighted area, with rows of rundown warehouses, garages and littered by-ways, Barrero founded ActivistArtistA gallery and initiated the Bay Gates projects, an ever-changing outdoor exhibition of murals and paintings by local and national artists, who paint brightly-colored graffiti-style murals on the gates of each studio.
"My intention is to provide the city and Palm Beach County a destination where locals and visitors can mingle, learn about developments in the arts, and enjoy participating in projects designed to enrich our lives," Barrero said.
Artists in the most recent Bay Gates project include Bulk, Ripe, Flicker, Venom, Veins, Serafima Sokolov, Paul Caprio, Eduardo Mendieta, Winkstyes, Nino Liguori and Craig McInnis.
Lake Worth artist Tony Hernandez and Lantana-based Dianett Doyle are two of the most recent artists to join the community. Doyle, who has expertise in painting faux finish interiors, is branching out to abstract paintings. And Hernandez, whose medium is oil on canvas, was born in Cuba and influenced by the style of late Cuban artists René Partocarrero and Amelia Peláez del Casal.
"Painting in an environment with other artists encourages you to do better," said Hernandez.
"I've been painting most of my life but never had the confidence to display my work," he said. "Rolando has been wonderful in helping me get started at BBAD, and it was the most amazing thing to see 300 people at the 'Art Walk' checking out my paintings."
On any given day, in addition to art and working studios, visitors can find open-mic nights, music and art festivals, a biannual "KeroWACKED" event, an outdoor art garage sale and barbecue, wine tastings, belly dancers, hoop dancing, fire spinners and exhibitions such as "Printed Matters," an exhibition of images and short stories by West Palm Beach artist Cary Polkovitz and "A Stroke of Genius" with Spike TV's inkmaster Lea Vendetta."Our events emerge organically and come from the artists themselves," Barrero said.The latest venture is a biodiversity project bringing a green ethos. With the help of urban gardeners Bill Milner and his wife Jayne King and other volunteers, Barrero is creating an educational juice bar and cultivating plants such as mangoes, star fruit, avocado, collard greens, tomatoes and okra.
Artist and wildlife scientist Diane Arrieta will complete a mural as part of her master's thesis in biodiversity and endangered species at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, studying the use of street art as a tool for biodiversity awareness. (see more info below)
"Street art is one avenue to reach a younger generation and inform them of scientific concepts regarding biodiversity and conservation," Arrieta said. "I offer a scientific model to my audience and encourage them to participate in making positive changes for a healthy planet."
While the district may still be a diamond in the rough, Barrero's personal goals for the arts district are to leave a legacy and create an international art foundation focused on emerging artists.
"The urban art revitalization project keeps the district fresh and gives people new reasons to visit," said Debby Coles-Dobay, public art administrator for the city.
She went on to say, "BBAD has positively activated a formerly unsafe and unkempt industrial area of Boynton Beach. It is the first and only industrial arts district in Palm Beach County. The artists and their engaging activities have attracted not only the public to the district, but businesses as well."