Mostly lined with mechanics’ bays, industrial storage, and manufacturing plants, many behind barbed wire fences and high, padlocked gates, few would guess that on West Industrial Avenue in Boynton Beach there lies a small but thriving and growing arts community.
West Industrial Avenue? Boynton Beach? Arts District? Who knew? The Boynton Beach Art District (BBAD) is the brainchild of activist artist, Rolando Chang Barrero. In the last year he has sprinkled a little fairy dust on an otherwise grimy stretch of roadway just west of I-95 off of Boynton Beach Boulevard.
For many it’s a relief to the eye to see some of the security lights highlighting artists, exhibits, and events, including a monthly open mic, which moves into one of the bays in case of rain.
“Palm Beach County’s Only Open Air Open Mic,” shouted the capital letters on the email press release. Held on the third Thursday of the month from 7 to 10 p.m., the program features poetry, music, dance, and more. Beer and wine available. Donation, $5. 422 West Industrial Avenue, Boynton Beach.
The open mic program has been in operation for about a year. According to Barrero it averages 30 to 60 people – both performers and audience. “That’s when it doesn’t rain and we can have it outdoors,” he said. “On nights like this (Thursday, July 18), when it rains, we get between 15 and 20 and we open a bay to stay out of the rain.”
“We’ve painted on the buildings and on the doors and planted flowering plants along the sides of the street so people will have the advantage of a queen’s sensitivities making it real pretty here for everyone,” said Barrero, referring to himself and dispelling any doubts whether there were gay artists involved in the project.
“We currently have two studios and ten artists in this space and we’ll continue to expand as space becomes available,” he said. “We’re very excited about this place and what it may become.”
Barrero’s own studio is called “ActivistArtistA Gallery & Studio. His websites are located at ActivistArtistA.com and ActivistArtistA.blogspot.com.
Asked about involvement from the Boynton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency, the CRA, Barrero indicated that the CRA is currently focused on the downtown and water front locales although they are aware of BBAD.
“Perhaps they’ll take a closer look in the future,” he suggested.
Barrero was born in Coconut Grove and moved to New York City with his parents at an early age. They returned to Florida where he recalls an awareness of Anita Bryant during his secondary school career, “But it really didn’t have a major effect on us kids in schools,” he said.
“By the way,” he added in response to the Anita Bryant issue, “I’m not concerned about today’s gay youth not knowing anything about their history. We lived that history so they don’t have to. Now they have to go on from here.”
When Barrero came out to his parents at 15 they threw him out to fend for himself. He found work at various bars and eventually made his way back to New York where he worked in some of the tougher bars at the time, many of which are no longer there.
He also engaged in activism including Act Up!, Queer Nation and more. After New York he spent some time in Chicago where he was involved in the development of the Pilsen Art District – a project not unlike his current effort in Boynton Beach. He returned to Florida to South Beach where he lived before moving north to Palm Beach County.
The July 18 open mic had about 20 people, many of whom were performers. Like many open mic venues there was a familial connectedness among the regulars who often bantered with the audience. New comers were welcomed warmly and Queen Rolando of West Industrial Avenue bustled around making sure everyone was comfortable and having a good time.
For more information call Rolando Barrero at 786-521-1199