Bringing Contemporary Art to a Public Housing Setting

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March 25, 2014; DNA Info New York

Art Connects New York, an arts service agency founded in 2006, is working on its 32nd partnership project aimed at developing site-specific, permanent exhibitions of museum-quality contemporary art—as well as free arts-based educational experiences—in collaboration with social service agencies. The latest is an exhibition that will open in May at the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center, which serves residents of the Stanley Isaacs Houses, a public housing complex on New York’s Upper East Side.

The Upper East Side is known for its first-rate art museums and galleries, but to many of those served by the Isaacs Center, such places may seem a world away. And the center, which runs programs for 6,000 children, young adults, and seniors each year, offers after-school art classes, but has never had the means to decorate its walls with the kind of work found in other areas of the Upper East Side.

Art Connects Executive Director Stuart Anthony says, “One of the things I love about my career is the chance to see great works of art every day. It changes everything about your day—your mood, your outlook—and that’s something everyone should have the chance to experience.”

Within a matter of weeks, visitors to the Isaacs Center will have that chance once the permanent exhibition being curated by Brooklyn-based artist Kirsten Flaherty opens. Flaherty decided she could inject both art and nature into this urban neighborhood, and her nature-themed exhibit will feature print works donated by 17 contemporary artists. Visitors also will have the opportunity to participate in curator-led tours of the exhibit and/or a silk-screening workshop taught by some of the featured artists. Organizers hope this project, like others undertaken by Art Connects, will “get people thinking about, talking about and engaging with what they see.”

This is one example of work taking place across the nonprofit landscape, where the arts and social services frequently intersect. Many social services agencies offer arts programs to clients, and many nonprofit arts groups deliver educational and community-building programs through social services partners.

“Good Works Everywhere” is the tagline featured on the Art Connects website. And with 32 projects of museum-quality art already under its belt, those words are clearly coming to life.—Eileen Cunniffe