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Empty storefronts in New York are transformed into free art exhibits

Barbara Anderson found a way to showcase New York City artists while also preventing blight.

A middle school teacher, Anderson lives in Manhattan's Upper West Side, and she told The Christian Science Monitor that seeing stores in her neighborhood shutting down because of the pandemic was disheartening. "Every day, seeing more and more empty storefronts, it was kind of just like, well, what do I tell my students?" Anderson said. "If you see a problem you can sit and complain or you can try to do something about it."

Last June, she launched an initiative called Art on the Ave, which turns empty storefronts into art exhibits. The first show was called "Healing," and featured 55 works of art by 41 artists across 12 storefronts in the Upper West Side. In order to participate, the artists all had to be based in New York, and their pieces could not be priced above $5,000. 

People walking by scanned QR codes in the windows, and could listen to artist talks or buy a piece that caught their eye. By the end of the exhibit, more than a dozen works of art were sold, bringing in $60,000 for the creators. No rent was paid to the landlords of the participating storefronts, but the QR codes linked to their websites, and several said they received rental inquiries from people who saw the art in their windows.

"Healing" was a success, and so was a second exhibit, "Awakening," held in the West Village. A third exhibit, "Resiliency," is slated for later this year in lower Manhattan. Artist Paola Bermudez participated in the showcases, and called the opportunity "a blessing." She told the Monitor that she has not only sold some of her work that was on display, but has also secured commissions. "My artistic career just got launched in an amazing way," she said.