Sunday, June 23, 2024

Neglected retail storefronts such as this one in Central Square are targeted in a Vacant Storefront Creative Design Contest taking artist submissions through Feb. 8. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The city hopes to fill some empty storefronts with the work of local artists, awarding five contest winners $1,000 for the license to their original designs, which property owners can put up in their windows.

The Vacant Storefront Creative Design Contest is accepting entries of paintings, prints, photographs and graphic design formatted into a high-resolution digital file that can be printed to paper or vinyl and is adaptable to a variety of ground-floor window sizes. 

The idea was inspired by the city’s Retail Strategy Plan, which identified “vacant storefront activation” as important, said Iram Farooq, assistant city manager for community development – a designer of the program with the Cambridge Arts agency.

Artwork must be uploaded to an online submissions form by noon Feb. 8. Up to 10 semifinalists chosen by a jury will be announced that month. The five finalists – two chosen by public vote, three by the jury after being displayed online and at the City Hall Annex, 344 Broadway, Mid-Cambridge – will be announced in March, with installations expected in the spring.

The town of Arlington tried something similar, but a June study said its Storefront Windows Project was limited in terms of location and honorariums – $200 for two-month displays – and “described as hard to execute effectively without sufficient resources.” The East Cambridge Business Association did better recently with support from a Community Development Department Small Business Challenge to commission local business owners to design creative displays in vacant, first-floor spaces, said analysts at Larisa Ortiz Associates.

The challenge in Cambridge may be in getting property owners motivated to beautify their storefronts; there are no carrots or sticks in place as incentive, and the unresponsiveness of even those owners and managers who can be contacted at all was the most consistent complaint of residents and officials at a July discussion of vacant retail.

In the current contest, the artwork will get non-exclusive licenses for two years with an option to renew and might be used in promotional materials as well as in storefronts.

Information about the contest is at