NYC wants artists to spice up sidewalk sheds and construction fencing

Ebony Bolt “Hope and Humanity” Lenox Hill Hospital, Upper East Side, Manhattan, 2021. Image courtesy of ArtBridge

New York City is seeking artists to help beautify sections of unattractive sidewalk sheds and construction fencing throughout the five boroughs. The city’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) has issued an open call for artists for 2024 through 2025 as part of its City Canvas program, which installs temporary, large-scale artworks on protective structures to make them more visually appealing.

Artwork by Sophia Victor. Image courtesy of ArtBridge

City Canvas was first established as a pilot program in 2018 and made permanent with the adoption of Local Law 163 in 2021, which amended the city’s Charter and Building Code to allow for the display of artwork on temporary protective structures like sidewalk sheds and construction fencing.

The pilot program had two main objectives: to improve the experience of walking throughout the city by transforming unsightly construction structures into beautiful works of art and to recognize artists and cultural institutions for work that is reflective of the surrounding neighborhoods.

The program is divided into three phases, with the first phase being a Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI) inviting artists to supply samples of their past work. The city, along with a committee of local arts professionals and community stakeholders, will select a minimum of 10 artists before continuing to phase two.

In phase two, the city will collaborate with the selected artists to help develop their final artwork, for which they will be rewarded $1,000. During phase three, which will span a minimum of two years, DCLA makes pre-approved artwork which is then made available online to interested property owners and artists. It is fully up to the artists and property owners to decide if they want to work together on a site during this time.

All of the artwork must be scalable for different proportions and colors and comply with the following guidelines:

  • No obscenity or hate speech;
  • No sexual content;  
  • No advertisements, including commercially recognizable symbols or logos; and  
  • No depiction of illegal activity.  
  • Artwork must not violate any Federal, State, or local law or rule.  
  • Artwork must be consistent with the Zoning Resolution.  
  • Artwork must include a credit to the artist.  
  • Artwork may not contain text, except for permitted credits and/or an information panel.  
  • Permitted credits may include credits to the artist, sponsor, and property owner.

Artists interested in applying for the program must submit a statement of interest, an artist statement, and work samples.

Responses will be reviewed by a panel of DCLA officials and professionals from the art community. The panel will judge applicants based on their completeness, eligibility, and quality, clarity of their statement of interest, quality of their previous work, and their adaptability.

The City Canvas program is part of Mayor Eric Adams’ administration’s “Get Sheds Down,” a broader effort to address the city’s abundance of sidewalk sheds and scaffolding. As of July 2023, NYC has roughly 400 miles of sidewalk sheds winding through city streets.

In December, the mayor celebrated the removal of the city’s longest-standing sidewalk shed at 405 Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem, which had been in place for 21 years.


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