WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, Manhattan (PIX11) — If you walk along West 181st Street in Washington Heights, you will, without a doubt, see a vacant store that has likely been that way for a long time and with good reason.  

“We obviously had a COVID crisis. We had a closure of a subway station and construction that has been going on for more than a year,” said Isidro Medina, the executive director of the Washington Heights Business Improvement District.

Medina said about 10% of its nearly 250 businesses are vacant with gates down and nothing to see. But that is about to change thanks to the Art on the Ave NYC. The community initiative supports local artists by transforming empty storefronts into mini art galleries.  

“Places like this that have been vacant for a long, long time they tend to deteriorate a little bit. Once we place the art pieces, it will be a lot more attractive. It would be clearer and we hope it’s going to attract more clientele to the area.” 

The Art on the Ave NYC project was spearheaded by Barbara Anderson in the Fall of 2020 when she noticed the vacancy problem in her Upper West Side Neighborhood. It helped to revitalize the neighborhood and gave people hope during a bleak time. 

“That was energizing for the people within the city but beyond that, it was in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and all of the social upheavals and protests that happened during that summer, so we thought what a meaningful way to put art in these windows and allow people to have dialogue and conversations about these things happening around us,” said Anderson. 

The project was such a success she has helped launch temporary storefront galleries in several Manhattan neighborhoods, with permission of the property owners.  

“Property owners who really see the value of raising up the gates in their properties and brightening up the space with art,” Anderson said. 

The nonprofit also accepts applications for a curator, which will help lead the guided tours. The theme for the Washington Heights call for arts is “The Rise.” Artists are invited to interpret that however, they want.  

“Our small business industry here identifies who we are, so cultivating that culture with young artists that are from this community and represented in this type of project, I think it’s critical,” said Medina. 

The deadline for those wanting to participate in this outdoor gallery is May 15. If you wish to apply, you can contact them @artontheavenyc on Instagram or visit their website.