By Serena Solomon
HELL'S KITCHEN — Instead of seeing art in a local sculpture garden entitled "Another Man's Treasure", the city just saw one man's trash.
Now, David Scalza, the neighborhood artist who created the garden in a courtyard on W. 56th Street, is hoping a grassroots effort, or an outspoken politician, can block $18,000 in city fines and threats to have the garden removed.
"The order from the Dept. of Buildings is that the area has to be clean of filth and debris," Scalza said. "The [Buildings] inspector saw rubbish, but did not see art."
The Buildings Department told Scalza's landlord that the sculpture needed to be removed or get hit with hefty fines for having debris and trash in the courtyard, according to Scalza. The landlord is pushing him to remove the works, he said.
Scalza said that his work actually cleaned up the space, which is bordered by three apartment buildings on 56th Street between Ninth and Tenth avenues.
"This area back here was basically rubbish and broken bottles," Scalza said. "Dogs where roaming back here, people where doing drugs back here and being that I had time on my hands, I began to clean it up."
Scalza started the garden four years ago after he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Since then, it's been featured in Artists in the Kitchen, an annual open studio tour of Hell's Kitchen.
"I started finding things that looked interesting," he said. "Little by little it started expanding and expanding, and it caught on in the neighborhood." Homeless people, neighbors and other artists have also contributed to the project.
It's also attracted tenants to the neighboring apartment buildings.
"It is part of the reason I moved in," said Tracy Svenning, 22, an entrepreneur who lives in a building that borders the courtyard who has helped tend the garden. "Everytime I come down there is always a new addition."
The Department of Buildings and Scalza's landlord did not return calls for comment.
Scalza also hopes his local City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who he said has been to the sculpture garden twice for community parties, can intervene and call off the city. Since the garden has been threatened, Brewer has only managed to suggest Scalza organize a petition, he said. But by the time pressure from a petition drive could be effective, the sculptures might already be gone.
Brewer's office did not return calls for comment.
Nonetheless, Scalza's pressing on with the petition drive, and he's being helped in that effort, and in drumming up support from the Hell's Kitchen art world, by Michael Felber, who runs the Artists in the Kitchen tour.
"[The garden] was a major stop on the tour," Felber said. "And I hope it will be for many years to come."