Scaffolding has been a fixture of the New York City landscape since the 19th century, when buildings started shooting skyward following the invention of elevators. The Scaffolding Law was passed in 1885 to deal with the safety hazards these new skyscrapers posed. The presence of scaffolding and sidewalk sheds spread exponentially after the passage of Local Law 11 in 1998, which mandated meticulous inspections of building facades every 5 years for all buildings over 6 stories high — inspections that required sheds to be erected underneath.
At the same time that scaffolding has overtaken NYC’s urban environment, emerging artists are facing increasing obstacles to success — from rapidly rising rents to an ever-more cloistered gallery world.
In 2008, designer and artist Rodney Durso’s Chelsea apartment building was undergoing a year-long facade inspection. Durso saw an opportunity for sidewalk sheds to serve as a canvas to provide unprecedented exposure for local, emerging artists, while turning a communal liability into a collective asset. This idea soon became ArtBridge.
Since 2008, ArtBridge has installed art at dozens of construction sites in New York City, with installations as far north as the Hudson Valley, and as far away as Italy. ArtBridge’s exhibitions have provided prominent exposure for more than 150 artists, and have covered over 50,000 square feet of public space.
In 2019 ArtBridge expanded its scope to create programming at NYCHA developments, which provide affordable housing to 400,000 lower-income New Yorkers. This program, Bridging the Divide, was founded by ArtBridge’s Executive Director, Stephen Pierson. It produces 2-month artist residencies at NYCHA developments across the city, coinciding with times of construction fencing at these buildings. During these 2 months, artists collaborate with residents to create art that empowers the narratives of residents.