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Public Art Initiative Rediscovers the Bronx's Lost Treasures

Next Wednesday, a long-forgotten shabby-chic retirement home opens to the public.

Is your neighborhood a work of art? It's possible you feel that way every time you leave the house, but many of us could use a reminder from time to time. In New York City, the nonprofit No Longer Empty is using public art initiatives to help New Yorkers (re)discover their neighborhoods' history and architectural lost treasures through site-specific exhibitions, from East Harlem to Governor's Island to Brooklyn.

The goal of the three-year old project is to "draw together the vitality of the contemporary art world and the values of building community" to create a lasting impact on the way people think about their neighborhoods. Beginning April 4, a NLE exhibition called This Side of Paradise will dive deep into the Bronx's oft-forgotten opulent past. The Andrew Freedman House, the enormous building where the exhibition is set, now sits largely abandoned, but was originally created in the 1920s—in a bizarre act of charity—as a retirement home for broke aristocrats to live out their final days in luxury. Thirty artists are currently having their way with the building's numerous rooms, many of which haven't been touched in years.

According to its website, NLE hopes to use the exhibition to spark conversation about the Bronx's past and future—among locals and visitors to the exhibition. A mix of curators, urban planners, and architects, NLE's volunteers and staff collaborate with and listen to local leaders in the neighborhoods where they operate to dream up projects that will create a lasting benefit beyond the time that the exhibition ends. That could mean cleaning up a building in disrepair or creating a map of unique local attractions to help support neighborhood businesses. They also create a series of programs around the exhibition, including workshops for kids and panels for adults, to transform the space into a cultural hub.

In the organization's three years, they've launched 12 exhibitions, working with more than 100 artists to create more than 50 new works. The latest exhibition is free and open from next Wednesday through June 5.

Image courtesy of No Longer Empty

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