The morning after 22 inches of rain fell on West Industrial Ave in Boynton Beach. Inset: Organize Roland Chang Barrero in front of one of the garage door murals.

The area is again thriving

On Jan 10, 2014, an unexpected storm dropped more than 22 inches of rain on South Florida, flooding large swaths of Palm Beach County including the Boynton Beach Art District (BBAD) at 404-422 West Industrial Ave.

For readers not familiar with West Industrial Ave., it’s a nondescript little road one block west of I-95 on the north side of Boynton Beach Boulevard. It’s worth a detour for the murals and graffiti that adorn the industrial buildings being morphed into an artists’ community.

“They called it the ‘storm of the century’ and said there’s supposed to be 100 years between these events, said Rolando Chang Barrero one of the leaders of the art movement. “I do know that none of us will store stuff on the floors any more.”

“Oh what a mess it was,” said Neighborhood Gallery owner Richard Beau Lieu. “Around 2 a.m. I drove to the gallery. I had to leave my car up the street and wade through a couple of feet of water to the building. There was about six inches of water everywhere. I was able to salvage a few things but almost everything on the floor was destroyed.”

Beau Lieu was the first tenant at what would become BBAD having opened his gallery in 1986. In 1989 he was instrumental in getting the area designated as the Boynton Beach Neighborhood Arts District, which allowed him to put up the sign.

Chang Barrero moved from Miami to Boynton Beach about five years ago and began the gentrification project that BBAD has become.

In addition to many art works, Chang Barrero lost thousands of dollars worth of sound equipment, lights and computers that he used for shows and displays.

“It was a horrible loss,” said Chang Barrero, “But worse was the fact that BBAD was scheduled to be the VIP Satellite Exhibit for the ArtPalmBeach in just thirteen days.”

And they did it. Friends, neighbors, collectors and clients descended on the property and cleaned it up in one week.

“People brought tools and food. Sam Ash Music Store provided electronics at wholesale prices and WLRN, among others, helped raise money.”

“We had to pay for it but the city gave us priority on the trash removal which helped clean up for the ArtPalmBeach project,” he continued.

“The City recognized the industrial location as Boynton Beach Neighborhood Arts District back in 1989,” said Debbie Coles-Dobay, Public Art Manager for the city. “But the property is privately owned and the artists rent space from the owners.”

“A city ordinance requires a license to paint a mural so it could get expensive to annually change the murals that BBAD has on the garage doors so we’re able to waive a lot of the paperwork and cost.”

Coles-Dobay sees BBAD as an important marketing tool for the city. “They attract people from all over including adults and kids,” she said. “They are an arts magnet that draws art lovers and neophytes to the Art District and thence to the rest of the city’s offerings,” she added.

Among other programs and events, BBAD holds a monthly art walk and open mic on the 4th Thursday of every month. It features indoor and outdoor art displays, tours of the galleries, food trucks, music and more.

As of this writing, there are 11 artists, six studios and two galleries. According to Chang Barrero these are the same numbers at the time of the storm – just different people.

“There’s a shortage of gallery space in the area,” said Chang Barrero. “So demand is always high. And we tell new tenants to keep stuff off the floors.”