How an Upper East Side construction site became an outdoor art exhibit

The Big Apple’s landscape is constantly changing. Buildings are torn down and new structures are erected every day, producing a metropolis rife with fenced-in work pits and construction sheds that straddle architecture and create eyesores.

However, New Yorkers walking along York Avenue between 61st and 63rd street will spy a development decorated with art produced by local children. This weekend, those lugging their shopping, walking their dogs, or simply heading to and from work could be observed stealing glimpses of what essentially serves as an outdoor art installation.

But how did it get here?

New Yorkers passing between 61st and 63rd street on York Avenue will spy a development decorated with art produced by local children. Photo by Dean Moses

Designed by community children themselves, this is but the latest in a series of ongoing efforts to ease the unsightly nature that comes part and parcel with the growing pains of an ever-expanding city, according to Councilmember Julie Menin, whose office helped bring the project to life alongside Department of Design and Construction Commissioner Thomas Foley.

Art fences were first introduced in Lower Manhattan, Menin said, and with those receiving good feedback, she looked to bring the approach uptown.

“This construction fence has been up for so long, and we were getting a lot of complaints in the community about it. So, I met with the commissioner to see how we can expedite construction. And in that conversation, I had this thought, well, why don’t we do what we had done downtown with the art fences, we could bring it here. And then I thought it’d be great if we could incorporate one of the local schools,” Menin explained. “We asked the students to submit artwork about what New York City means to them.”

Young artists are proud of their work. Photo by Dean Moses

The display — designed by students of nearby PS. 183 — was first unveiled on Feb. 6, and since that time has already been celebrated by those in the area for bolstering the talents of the youngsters who drew each piece. Plastered with picture after picture, each artwork gives passersby a unique glimpse into how kids perceive the big city.

Eleven-year-old artist Carolina Manuel Corral shared with amNewYork Metro her inspirations and how excited she is to see her work every day.

“When I found out I was very shocked and also very excited. I feel very happy because I think I did good,” Corral told amNewYork Metro. “Some of the stuff I drew actually represents my house.”

Eleven-year-old artist Carolina Manuel Corral with her piece. Photo by Dean Moses

Claudia Saez, 10, also has her artwork featured on the fence and shared that art keeps her family together even though some of her relatives are currently in Spain.

“My aunt and I would draw all the time in Spain. She was like one of the only girls in my family and one of the only people I could connect with, so I would always like to chat with her and draw with her,” Saez said. “My art brings the family together.”

DDC Commissioner Foley told amNewYork Metro that construction work still has about 18 months before water mains and sewer systems are fully installed. With that in mind, Foley was all in on getting the young artists involved.

Ten-year-old Claudia Saez. Photo by Dean Moses

“We knew that we’ve been out here for a while,” Foley said. “We still have a ways to go with rebuilding this area … and we knew that this area needed to be beautified. We didn’t want the community just to be looking at the construction site.”