Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Artist and member of the North Gwinnett Art Association Carol van Dyck labels art work on display in the windows of five vacant store fronts in downtown Lawrenceville on Aug. 16, 2012. Van Dyck has three water color pieces on display.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Lawrenceville Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson went strolling through her city's downtown with a purpose one Saturday morning, scrawling down phone numbers for leasing agents of vacant properties.
She called each of them with a proposal. Let's just say it went over well.
"I didn't even have to call back," Johnson said recently, almost a year after that day. "They said, 'Oh, yeah, this is great, we would love it. Tell us when you want to meet with the keys.'"
The proposal was simple, and is now flourishing in the vacant storefronts of the downtown Lawrenceville square: The storefront windows, rather than be left empty, would be filled with paintings, photographs and sculptures from local artists.
The art would catch the eye of passersby, and hopefully help lease spaces faster. Bring in the North Gwinnett Arts Association, which began a similar project in Suwanee in 2010, and the project has worked fabulously.
"This is the perfect place to have that art in those windows to show what we're doing," NGAA President Vickie Johnson said.
Lawrenceville's first vacant storefront art display was filled last September and lit up through the Christmas season. While local artists sold some of their work from the window, the space on N. Perry Street was eventually leased to the Exhibit A(le) beer growler store.
At the moment, a total of five storefronts -- some unleased, some leased but still setting up -- are filled with art from the North Gwinnett Arts Association. A few more property owners have requested pieces, which include landscape and nature paintings, photography and even a set of origami vases displayed in the window of the old Aristeacrats location.
"Property owners are very excited about it," Mayor Johnson said, "because they realize that if the art is in there, someone may stop and look and realize oh, this is a vacant space. But the owners around (the vacancies) are real excited, too."
That's because, she said, the owners of shops near the art-filled windows are noticing more foot traffic. The no-longer-empty storefronts can make folks slow down to take a peek, and sometimes that means they notice the shop next door, too.
"The way the economy's been, you put art in the windows and it looks full, it looks attractive and it's a win-win for the city and for the artist, because they are able to get some work out there," NGAA artist Kathy Meenach said.
The arts group estimated it had sold more than 50 pieces out of downtown Lawrenceville windows.
While driving business and helping out local artists are important, Lawrenceville's mayor said she hopes the project draws more attention to art in the community as well.
"I hope the city will become more interested in having art as part of the community," Mayor Johnson said. "We have begun with the Aurora Theatre, which is a great blessing to the city, but there are other venues of art that we'd like to incorporate."