Times Herald-Record / by Ellie Ohiso

People pour out wishes for empty Liberty building

LIBERTY — Bland sheets of plywood stretched across the entrance of the former Liberty Theater and connected storefronts in the center of Main Street.

Where others saw a row of depressing closed storefronts in the heart of their village, Akira and Ellie Ohiso spotted an opportunity.

They painted the dull white wood black, lettered “I would like to see this storefront become ”»” in Spanish and English, and left colored chalk behind for people to scribble away their ideas.

Akira is the president and editor and wife Ellie the publisher of Green Door Magazine, a Sullivan County-based journal dedicated to responsible living in the Catskills and Hudson Valley.

The Ohisos say the project extends the magazine’s mission, to get people thinking about their community and making positive changes.

But they also say they did it because they live in the village and don’t want to drive or walk past boring blank boards for the next several months.

“There is some type of psychological impact to walking past vacant stores every day,” Ellie said. She said people grow apathetic and tend to get used to seeing closed buildings.

“Art,” she said, “has a way of making a psychological impact for the positive.”

Stephanie Eisenberg owns the property on South Main Street. She plans to renovate the former movie theater into a performing arts space, and create retail stores.

It is unclear, however, how long that project will take to get going.

Akira Ohiso said the wall will stay up for at least six months and possibly the duration of the construction project.

They finished the wall on Jan. 13 after obtaining the owner’s permission. Within a couple hours, people were scribbling away, Akira said. It has been a hit with young people.

Most of the wall is covered with comments in multicolored chalk. A skateboard store, youth center and game room are the most repeated requests. Others wrote: “hair shop,” “teen pregnancy prevention center,” “semi private youth pool hall,” or simply “something amazing and unexpected.”

Ellie Ohiso said once the wall is filled with comments, they’ll erase them so people can keep writing. They monitor the content to ensure no foul language is on display.

The idea was based on artist Candy Chang’s “Before I Die” series, where people have expressed their feelings and aspirations in public spaces. Chang created the first wall on an abandoned house in New Orleans, after she lost a loved one.

Liberty’s wall has been featured on the Web page beforeidie.cc with other walls in the series as far flung as Australia and the Netherlands.

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