This  article  originally appeared in Huffington Post.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

Aki Todic loves art.

That is the first thing you sense when you walk into the Graffiti House , his building located in the heart of the Astoria waterfront arts scene.

Graffiti House

Graffiti House

Graffiti House serves as a rotating art gallery and features a 9-story vertical art installation within the elevator visible through a custom glass viewing wall, parking garage mural walls, and towering 7-story south facade mural, as well as curated artwork throughout the lobby and hallways.

“Every building we do is slightly different. Contributing art back is the best thing we ever did. Having art is a win win. That is the way I feel about art in real estate.” Aki flashes a boyish grin and says, “Astoria will be known for its waterfront.

“I like to say there are a million dollar views from Manhattan, and billion dollar views from Astoria. No one can compete with the views from the Astoria waterfront.”

Aki is one of a select group of Community Champions being feted by the Queens Council on the Arts at the upcoming Caribbean Carnival 2018 Gala.

Tell me about your business

“My family came here from Yugoslavia and over the past 15 years, we built AKI into vertical company focusing on development, property management, interior design by building other businesses that include trades such as HVAC, plumbing, electrical contracting, etc.

My dad was a manufacturer in Yugoslavia and became a super in Flushing where he noticed that the lead time for getting kitchen cabinets was very slow. He began importing them from overseas sources and from that, I expanded into doing tile work, general contracting and expediting among other businesses. By 2010, we had grown the business into real estate development.”

What is your interest in the arts?

“Take a look at the Welling Court Mural Project. Everybody loves it and that is what is really important to me - that our tenants are 100% happy. We keep seeing lots of people walking by appreciating the artwork. The outdoor arts project attracts a long list of art enthusiasts, including buses of Jewish women from Roslyn, Long Island! 

There is a positive exchange of energy that exists around these outdoor art experiences. Inside Graffiti House, we commissioned over 20 artists to paint installations inside the building and have another 40 artists work rotating throughout the common spaces of the building on a regular basis.

The artists were truly a pleasure to work with - they were happy to talk about their work, process and inspiration. Ruben, the Scandinavian mural artist who was commissioned to paint a giant 80-foot mural on the side of our building, showed me how he snapped a perfectly level chalk line to align his grid and suddenly I am in the throes of an art lesson. 

All of the artists we have worked with have a very professional business mentality, much like developers in a sense. In fact, the 20+ Graffiti House artists have many interests that coincide with ours - they are eager to learn important aspects in our industry such as building safety. In a way, artists are always doing something new for the first time. And just like them, I, too, am always learning.

Graffiti House is our first building in Astoria. We had plenty of people telling us we were crazy to be investing tens of thousands of dollars in artwork and incurring additional costs to support the work of these artists with scaffolding, materials, paint, etc. To me, those negative reactions came from people with a lack of vision with a fundamental misunderstanding about the power of art. But we have a long term vision for the area and supporting local artists is at the forefront of that movement.”


As you grow your business, what are your thoughts about the arts in Queens at this moment in time?

“We will continue to develop along the Astoria waterfront - currently we have 6 buildings in various stages of predevelopment. I would love to see a cultural district created for the community along the waterfront and help strengthen the retail and commercial presence in the area.

My dream is to be a successful developer and to help change Astoria for the better.  With a long-term vision and help from artists, community leaders, and influential business owners, we can make Astoria the very best neighborhood on the East River.

Give back. It will come back to you a thousand times.

In 10 years, I’d like to be known for developing, owning and managing the best buildings in Astoria, Queens. We will strive to keep pushing ourselves to build better and better buildings that are synonymous with quality, art & luxury. Ultimately we will work hard to fill in the gaps and needs of the community and bring positive energy to the neighborhood that has given me so much already.”

Keep doing what works.

About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

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