Nonprofit Brings Contemporary Art to UES Public Housing Center
Upper East Side — The Upper East Side is known for its internationally renowned art museums and galleries — but that world can feel very far removed for residents who visit the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center.
“Our centers are located in NYCHA spaces,” said Gregory Morris, executive director of the Isaacs Center, which serves those who live in the Stanley Isaacs Houses public housing complex. “NYCHA is very generous to let us use them, but their spaces tend to feel very institutional.”
Art Connects New York, a nonprofit that brings musuem-quality contemporary art to underserved New Yorkers, hopes to change that. The organization will open a permanent exhibit featuring nearly 20 pieces by 17 contemporary artists at the Isaacs Neighborhood Center this May.
Artists who donated pieces for the exhibit include Andy Hoogenboom, whose work is in the collection at the Met, and Bruce Waldman, whose pieces are in the permanent collection of The Art Institute of Chicago.
Art Connects New York, which was founded in 2006, hires curators to work with local social-service agencies to develop site-specific, permanent exhibitions.
“It’s really about connecting people with contemporary art,” said Stuart Anthony, executive director of Art Connects. “Art should be for everyone, not just for people who have the means to buy expensive paintings at auctions or go to art fairs or museums.”
The Isaacs Center represents Art Connects’ 32nd partnership. Anthony said the group chose the center because of the wide variety of residents that it serves.
The Isaacs Center runs programs for 6,000 children, young adults and seniors each year. It offers after-school care, GED tutoring, job training and case management. Most of the center’s clients live in the surrounding Isaacs Houses, a collection of high-rises managed by the New York City Housing Authority.
Though the center offers art classes during its after-school program, it has never had the means to display art on its walls.
“The opportunity to bring life and color and vibrancy to this place is very important to us,” Morris said. “The quality of the art we’re receiving is something we could never do on our own.”
Brooklyn-based artist Kirsten Flaherty, who is curating the Isaacs Center exhibit, chose to focus on pieces that showcase nature from different perspectives, including several works that feature animals.
"Because we live in New York City, where it is so hectic and crowded, I wanted to foster an appreciation for nature among the kids," she said.
Primarily a printmaker, Flaherty also decided to create a show entirely of prints, which can be made through wood block carving, etching, silk-screening and other methods. She feels that prints are a more accessible form of art.
"Printmaking has always been used as a way to communicate information, both literal and artistic, so it's a more familiar art form," she said.
In addition to creating exhibits, Art Connects offers free educational programming to its partner agencies.
In the case of the Isaacs Center, Art Connects will offer curator-led tours of the exhibit and a silk-screening workshop taught by some of the featured artists. The goal is to get people thinking about, talking about and engaging with what they see, organizers said.
“One of the things I love about my career is the chance to see great works of art every day,” Anthony said. “It changes everything about your day — your mood, your outlook — and that’s something everyone should have the chance to experience.”