By Dan Harkins
DELAND - In 1926, the American Pioneer Title Insurance Co. built their downtown office building right alongside the Volusia County Courthouse on West Indiana Avenue, unwittingly creating the storied cranny now known as Chess Park.
Today, one of the city's many vivid murals graces the building's western wall, facing the courthouse steps and an inviting stretch of shade trees, chess tables and now a waterfall in between.
The four-windowed storefront, most recently occupied by Ticor Title Insurance, had been a wide vacant yawn for several months now right in the heart of a thriving shopping and eating destination.
But no more.
"When you're walking down the street here or you're sitting there enjoying dinner," said MainStreet DeLand Association's Assistant Director Mary Beth Harris, "you don't want to look up and see a vacant storefront. But if you look up and see art ..."
In recent weeks, in place of two of those empty windows on West Indiana Avenue, went two larger-than- life-size photos of sandhill cranes, set against vivid green backdrops, by nature photographer/local Realtor Arnette Sherman.
She's also a member of a MainStreet DeLand subcommittee that's instituting a new program called Art Expose, which will enlist local artists to spruce up what remaining vacant downtown storefronts still await new tenants.
"We don't have that many," Ms. Harris said, touting a downtown occupancy rate typically north of 93 percent, "which is a wonderful problem not to have."
Still, she added, "This will give local artists an opportunity to show their work ... and it also adds beauty to what few vacant windows we do have."
Ms. Sherman said she's honored to be the first to display her work in the program, which involves transferring chosen photos and paintings to vinyl sheets that completely cover some, most or all of sponsors' windows.
The owner of the insurance building chose to keep the other two windows open for potential suitors to see in, and that's an option available to any building owner willing to sponsor the program, Ms. Sherman said.
"We're starting with one (building)," she said, "and we've got a couple others in mind."
To donate vacant window space to sprucing up the view, contact MainStreet DeLand Association at (386) 738-0649.