NYC Dept of Cultural Affairs + Dept of Buildings Adopt Permanent City Canvas Program!




National Black Theatre/Ray Harlem. Photo credit: Jon Souza/ArtBridge. The exhibition is part of City Canvas.

The NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, in collaboration with the Department of Buildings, has released details for the new City Canvas program, which will expand opportunities for artists and building owners to install public artwork on temporary construction sheds, fences, and scaffolding. City Canvas – initially launched as a pilot in 2018 – transforms these necessary-but-unsightly safety structures into platforms for creative expression and community engagement. The new program, which was created through Local Law 163 of 2021, builds on the pilot and creates additional opportunities for artists, building owners, and communities to create site-specific artworks on the 300+ miles of protective structures currently installed across the five boroughs. As part of the launch of the new, permanent program, the city is also issuing a call for artists to apply to create pre-approved designs that site owners can use for protective structures on their properties.  

“We’re fully on board to ‘get sheds down’ but for the protective structures that have to stay in place, we say: if you can’t beat em, paint em!,” said Cultural Affairs Commissioner Laurie Cumbo. “City Canvas turns eyesores into opportunities by transforming the ugly-but-needed protective structures that can be found all over New York into platforms for artistic expression and community collaboration. The pilot program has showed the potential of this innovative program, and we’re proud to be rolling out the permanent program, including an open call for artists to design pre-approved artworks that site owners can select from. Learn more at today!”

In July, Mayor Adams and DOB Commissioner Jimmy Oddo announced “Get Sheds Down,” a sweeping overhaul of rules governing sidewalk construction sheds and scaffolding that will remove these eyesores from city streets more quickly while redesigning and reimagining those that are needed. Under City Canvas, sheds that can’t be removed can be transformed into platforms for local artists to beautify New York’s vibrant cityscape.

Under the new City Canvas program, there are two avenues for property owners to install artwork on temporary protective structures, Site-Specific Artwork and Pre-Approved Artwork:

  • Site-Specific Artwork is commissioned by a property owner independently or with the assistance of a partner organization that manages the production of artwork which must be approved by the DCLA prior to display. This pathway most closely resembles the approach to this program followed during the City Canvas pilot phase. For site owners interested in this path, DCLA has published official program guidelines which includes a list of potential partners organizations.
  • Pre-Approved Artwork: Now, in addition to working with artists on original, site-specific commissions, building owners will also have the option of selecting pre-approved artwork, which they will be able to license for a fee negotiated directly with the artists. The pre-approved artworks will be selected from a gallery of options provided by the city, which will be created following an open call for artists that is being launched today. The gallery is expected to be live in spring 2024. Applications for the first round of selections (which includes only a statement of interest, artist statement, and examples of past work; no original work is needed to apply) are due by January 31, 2024. Up to 10 artists will then receive a $1,000 honorarium to develop artworks for the pre-approved program. When a pre-approved artwork is selected for display by a property owner, DCLA will put them in touch with the artist directly to license their artwork for the given site. DCLA has also issued guidance on licensing and fee guidelines, facilitating collaboration between site owners and artists and encouraging fair, transparent compensation.

The new City Canvas program joins the Adams administration’s broader efforts to enhance New York’s public spaces, which are essential to the city’s economic and social vibrancy. The administration has invested $375 million in creating high-quality public spaces as part of the “Working People’s Agenda,” and City Canvas will further enhance the vibrancy of the city’s streets and open spaces while giving local artists opportunities to work and generate income.

The City Canvas pilot program, which ran from 2019 through 2023, saw 119 artists complete 124 artworks at 47 locations in all five boroughs. As part of the non-profit organization ArtBridge’s “Bridging the Divide” program, a partnership with DCLA and NYCHA, 50 artists (19 of whom were current or former NYCHA residents) worked at NYCHA developments across the city, creating dozens of art installations in close collaboration with NYCHA residents.