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Art Group Transforms Empty City Space into Galleries

By Jeff Mays | August 22, 2010 12:15pm | Updated on August 23, 2010 6:19am

Jeff Mays

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — For 13-year-old Caprice Harris, it was the second trip of the day to an art exhibit tucked into a formerly empty store front on 124th Street at Second Avenue.

The makeshift gallery was created by No Longer Empty, a group determined to bring art to empty city spaces.

"I think it’s unique, it has its own style," said Harris as she viewed the exhibit, "Weaving In and Out," which examines the changing face of East Harlem.

"It’s different," added Harris' friend, Mahogany Hampton, 10. "This is different from any museum I’ve ever been to."

The move to turn vacant space into art galleries and performance space is growing across the city. Several groups have moved into empty stores, turning them into exhibition venues.

"We were fascinated with this area because our work is about community and we believe in the power of art to create community," said Jodi Dinapoli, a co-curator of "Weaving In and Out."

No Longer Empty also has also taken over vacant homes on Governors Island, calling it "The Sixth Borough."

The response from the community has been good. Intern Selina Lee said one woman who wandered into an event eventually became a volunteer.

Another woman, who lives opposite the 124th Street gallery, saw the art being installed from her window and showed up to check it out when the exhibit opened.

Lee had a long conversation with a woman who thought putting the gallery in the area was "self indulgent" and "decadent." It’s those stereotypes about art that the group is trying to overcome.

"Our purpose is to bring high-caliber art to unexpected places," Lee said.

Paul Gaston, 11, who lives in Wagner Houses, gets it. He's been to the exhibit several times this summer.

"I like to draw a lot so I thought this was really cool when I saw it," he said.

The exhibit, at 245 East 124th St., continues until August 29.