In pre-pandemic times, the ever-bustling Fulton Shopping Center was a mecca of eateries, shops, and the hub for numerous train lines to take me to after-work happy hour. However, when I entered the mall again in summer 2022 as part of my residency with The Soho Renaissance Factory (SRF), there was a noticeable change. Most storefronts were dark and unclaimed – a sad reality at first glance… that is until you realize the potential!
To back up, I was fortunate enough to participate in two group residency programs in conjunction with the Soho Renaissance Factory that summer. Although both opportunities were exciting, there was something particularly special about my time working with Art on the Ave with Barbara Anderson, which is what led me to the Fulton Shopping Center. The Soho Renaissance Factory was given not just one space to create at the Fulton Shopping center, but four additional spaces to display the work that has been created during our time spent there. The empty storefronts quickly transformed from dull and lifeless to vibrant spaces full of storytelling. Our art, combined with curatorial expertise from Barbara and beautiful vinyl banners from @thingscreativenyc , gave the center an exciting energy that had been missing prior.
So what’s the catch? How is Art on the Ave able to give artists free studio space at some of the busiest locations in New York? The genesis of this organization began in the hallways of the New York City public school system. As the founder, Barbara Anderson explained: “Art on the Ave is very much a model that I used in the classroom for many years, in the sense that this idea of placing the students’ work in one long corridor and then, providing not just the work there for people to see and admire but to actually have events whereby the students would share what it is that they needed to share or had discovered. Including that element of student presence just added such a different dimension, where they owned their work so much more.”
During the pandemic, time spent at school was quickly replaced by walks up and down the empty avenues of the city. Although these storefronts were barren, Barbara couldn’t help but see similarities between these vacant storefronts and the vacant walls of her old school hallways. Thus transpired her brilliant idea – by placing art in these stark window displays, the chances of new business owners realizing a space’s potential would grow tenfold. From that moment on, Art on the Ave quickly developed into what it is today. With the help of various property owners, partnerships, and her daughter/fellow teacher, Jackie Graham, these empty spaces became revitalized with a slew of local artists’ beautiful displays, helping spaces get noticed and rented out to a new wave of businesses.
“During the pandemic, the city was so shaken and felt dark. The first Art on the Ave was such a bright moment. So many people connected to the work and the diversity of the art and artists. Art on the Ave is such an amazing resource for artists in the city.”
One of the first artists to participate in the Art on the Ave movement was Lance Johnson. He came aboard during the 2020 residency themed, The Art of Healing, on the Upper West Side. Johnson stood out with his “We The People” piece which paid homage to the brilliant diversity of New York City. “During the pandemic, the city was so shaken and felt dark. The first Art on the Ave was such a bright moment,” Johnson recounted. “So many people connected to the work and the diversity of the art and artists. Art on the Ave is such an amazing resource for artists in the city.”
Since then, Johnson has revisited Art on the Ave this past March 2022, where he completed a live painting experience at One World Trade Center, 100 stories above the very city that raised him and helped him nurture his craft.
Quickly following suit, Paolo Bermudez joined the Art on the Ave family and was a major player in multiple exhibitions from 2020 through 2021 including “The Art of Healing” and “Awakening”. Through her participation, Bermudez was able to complete seven painted works, and not only sold multiple but was even given a permanent exhibition at the Serendipity Labs in FiDi, another in Grand Central Station, and an opportunity to show three more works in the Nahualli Gallery NYC in the World Trade Center’s Oculus location. “Art on The Avenue gave me the opportunity to connect with so many people from the art industry and the general public,” Bermudez reflected. “I think that what Barbara and her team do for the artists and for the art itself is priceless.”
As many artists can relate to, Spring 2022 resident and skilled muralist and textile artist, James Hsieh, also reflects on the amazing opportunity Art on the Ave in terms of mere studio space. New York City, not known for its ample real estate, creates a huge barrier for creatives looking to get their deposits back from a paint-splatter-less apartment. Hsieh attests, “As an artist based in New York, finding a studio space to create art is the most challenging part of being an artist. I really appreciate this opportunity [working with Art on the Ave] to not only showcase my art in subway stations but to create them in subway stations [as well]!” Since his time working as the first artist in residence at Fulton Center, Hsieh has had multiple murals commissioned with big-name hotel chains such as the Marriott’s Residence Inn on Maiden Lane and their larger Millennium Hotel location on Fulton and Church.
“As an artist based in New York, finding a studio space to create art is the most challenging part of being an artist. I really appreciate this opportunity [working with Art on the Ave] to not only showcase my art in subway stations but to create them in subway stations [as well]!”
Ruminating on my own time participating with Art on the Ave, I, too could not be more thankful for such a unique and supportive opportunity. Art on the Ave gave SRF a rare platform to showcase all four of our individual points of view during the Summer of 2022. Our project’s theme was Seen and Unseen: the Faces and Spaces of NYC – where each artist’s work depicted an aspect of our beloved city from a public and personal perspective. Taking on the unseen places element, I completed a three-canvas series celebrating the small details that made each apartment of years past special.
From an unfinished roof in Clinton Hill to blue kitchen tiles on the Upper East side, and a graff-style “No Parking” sign outside my Ridgewood office; these aspects that made my own private spaces “home” are not only forever materialized in paint, but these canvases were featured in my very own studio space at one of the busiest transit hubs in NYC. Alongside my fellow SRF members, our project could not have been a bigger success. With Konstance Patton’s Goddezzes in Transit, Amir Diop’s Unseen People Project, and Sule’s I am You, we were able to create an artistic multi-studio story that was accessible to anyone and everyone passing through Fulton Center Station.
Alongside my fellow SRF members, our project could not have been a bigger success. With Konstance Patton’s Goddezzes in Transit, Amir Diop’s Unseen People Project, and Sule’s I am You, we were able to create an artistic multi-studio story that was accessible to anyone and everyone passing through Fulton Center Station.
There have been countless artist collaborations and even more amazing success stories since the start of Art on the Ave in 2020. The community-based non-profit continues to breathe life into pandemic-stricken areas today, while also connecting local NYC artists with opportunities to grow and showcase their work to the public. The Art on the Ave team works tirelessly to spread awareness and acquire funding and locations for future artists. They were even invited to the North American Business Improvement District conference in Vancouver to pitch their tried-and-true model, hopeful to inspire other locations around the US and Canada to adopt the healing capabilities of public art. On a smaller scale, Art on the Ave hopes to broaden their reach to all five boroughs throughout New York City, while continuing to highlight under-represented groups of artists. Art on the Ave encourages any interested NYC artists to send their resumes and portfolio to firstname.lastname@example.org. Although we are still experiencing the after-effects of a pandemic-stricken city, Art on the Ave proves that artists have, and always will be the curative ingredient in fortifying our communities.