Artists race to bring their craft to ‘Big A’

Shai Dahan, an artist from Sweden, works on his contribution to "Aqueduct Murals." Photo by Bianca Fortis
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The grandstand walls of the Big A are getting a face-lift.

The New York Racing Association is using the Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park as a venue for street artists to display their work.

Fourteen artists from around the world are using the racino’s blank indoor walls as canvasses for big murals.

The show is the brainchild of Paul Kelleher, who works in corporate development for NYRA.

“I thought, ‘These white walls are just asking for it,’” he said. “They’re sterile. There’s nothing on them.”

Kelleher said the show is a way to bring exposure to the Big A, which first opened in 1894 and was once a household name.

“If people are willing to travel all the way to Rockaway Beach to have a good time in the summer, why shouldn’t they come here?” he said. “A lot of them just don’t know about it.”

He said many patrons come and go, intent on only watching the races. After the artists started to paint, they began to look up, ask questions and share their opinions of the pieces, Kelleher said.

The artists were culled by Joe Iurato, a New Jersey-based artist who, Kelleher says, has a Rolodex of amazing artists, each with a unique style.

Iurato said he chose artists who he believes would represent the best of their styles in their genre.

“You don’t usually see a collection of artists like this indoors,” he said. “These types of works are housed in the street.”

He said there is a certain harmony between the artists and the racetrack — both are tied to their roots, he said.

The artists worked overnight Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to create their murals, each with the theme of horse racing.

One artist is Chris Stain, a resident of Middle Village. He said he grew up writing graffiti in Baltimore in the mid-1980s.

“That opened up the doors to a larger world of self-expression,” he said. “I was able to learn about different art forms I didn’t know existed.”

For his contribution to “Aqueduct Murals,” he is replicating a photograph that was captured at Aqueduct in 1941. It depicts an ornery-looking jockey covered in mud after just completing a race.

“He looks like he has an attitude,” Stain said. “That’s what I liked about it.”

The show opened Saturday and currently has no closing date. More information about the show is available at

Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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