New York City, a place with a high percentage of abandoned structures, is getting a colorful facelift in some areas. No Longer Empty, a local nonprofit, is turning neglected buildings and storefronts into art installations and exhibits—and what’s more, the exhibits are meant to showcase a neighborhood’s history and community.
The nonprofit, founded in 2009, aims to tell the let local artists tell the stories of different New York City neighborhoods through their work. The nonprofit’s first project was a response to the 2009 financial crisis, as the collapse of Lehman Brothers left many open spaces around the city. NLE founder and chief curator, Manon Slome, says that site-specific art has always been part of her mission. “Responding to a site became the center of the way we were curating the exhibition and eventually the programming,” she says. A 2009 art exhibit responded to the Lehman Brothers and financial crisis; another at the Clock Tower in Long Island City spoke to currency and value. The Clock Tower was recently declared a local landmark.
Part of NLE’s mission, according to its website, is to engage the community and bring people together through art and its appreciation. The group “works with internationally recognized curators to feature established artists alongside emerging artists,” offering spaces to both. What the nonprofit aims to do is to make art accessible to everyone, to revitalize people and neighborhoods, and to strengthen communities.
Kameelah Janon Rasheed, a young artist whose work was featured in a Sugar Hill exhibit, says, “[This exhibit] is a great way for me to create an artistic project that relates to the community. Art should be for the community, to think about change, to engage with their own realities.” Little by little, with the help of local artists like Rasheed, the deserted places of New York City are remembering who they are, where they’ve been, and where they have yet to go.