BEYOND THE FRAMES: Art is in abundance in the museums, galleries and public installations in New York City, but it is also increasingly cropping up in some unexpected ways.
Art on the Ave NYC, a community-based initiative that supports local artists and helps revitalize pandemic-stricken neighborhoods, is branching out. Having first put art in vacant storefronts along Columbus Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in November 2020, the group is seeking new work for this year’s initiative. The first time, art was showcased in about 10 locations including several businesses that were open and offered window space for the initiative, according to founder Barbara Anderson.
Given the fluidity of retail in New York City, Art on the Ave NYC “really doesn’t know which locations it will have until the week before and sometimes the morning of,” she said. “That’s the excitement and the challenge. It’s a difficult job for curators as well, when you’re imagining where these pieces are going to be placed. But you don’t quite know for sure, if you’re going to have that space.”
In addition, the windows of vacant spaces are often covered with paper so Anderson and her team often don’t know what specifically they will be working with until they go in to install the work. After the inaugural Upper West Side installation called “The Art of Healing,” Art on the Ave staged “Awakening” themed work in the West Village and then one titled “Resiliency” in lower Manhattan. Art was also installed in the vacant retailers in Fulton Center. Typically 20 artists are selected by the team of curators with underrepresented artists being of particular interest, Anderson said.
For the next week, “Intersection” art is on view in empty storefronts in Midtown East, a neighborhood that has been especially hard hit by retail vacancies due to area companies’ delayed return-to-office plans office. Nearly 30 percent of the retailers in the neighborhood and around Grand Central were vacant as of last summer, according to the Real Estate Board of New York.
Art on the Ave NYC is planning its next Upper West Side show and that will be followed by a Hell’s Kitchen effort in the fall. The group is considering expanding into the city’s other boroughs, according to Anderson, a former middle school art teacher, who works on the project with her daughter Jackie Graham.
The organization often works with Business Improvement District leaders to facilitate contact with business developers. The art shows typically are executed with a budget between $50,000 and $75,000. “Lots of people” from art groups in other places including Atlanta, Boston and the U.K. have reached out to Anderson about how they might do something similar.
Noting how that more than 60 percent of the vacant Upper West Side stores that showcased art last year were rented within six months, Anderson said she doesn’t believe that happened because they had art. But some property owners said that the art helped raise interest and have asked that the community art be featured in other empty spaces. Art on the Ave NYC declined the latter request, since it targets specific neighborhoods and is community-based. While Manhattan’s retail is better than it was a year ago and Columbus Avenue’s vacancy rate has improved, “there are definite areas that are going to have to come up with some pretty creative solutions for the huge vacancy issues they have,” Anderson said.
Separately, shoppers in SoHo can catch some live painting on Sunday at the Nespresso store where Justin Teodoro will be creating a mural. Nespresso commissioned Accompany Creative to come up with the concept and produce “The Things We Hold” campaign. The artist, whose portfolio includes work for Louis Vuitton, Shiseido and other fashion brands, has created art for limited edition-coffee mugs that will be available as of March 15 and will benefit the Ali Forney Center.