Beyond the Bricks: An Art Collaboration

A new neighborhood-wide project and exhibition launches on the Upper East Side

| 19 Nov 2022 | 04:26

The pub was full – the latest hotspot-on-a-Saturday-night kind of full. But this was Wednesday, and there was no dancing, only lively enthusiasm, plenty of wine and appetizers, and the constant buzz of conversation as people gathered at popular Upper East Side spot Ryan’s Daughter to celebrate the launch of Beyond the Bricks, a new neighborhood-wide public art project and exhibition.

A collaboration between Friends of the Upper East Side, Manhattan Sideways and Art on the Ave NYC, the project “highlights the Upper East Side’s vibrant small business culture, neighborhood history, and talented local artists,” where original artwork will be on display at dozens of UES locations through the middle of January.

Betsy Bober Polivy, founder of Manhattan Sideways, and author of two books all focused on small businesses and arts on Manhattan side streets, spoke of the ideas that led to the collaboration that is receiving such incredible support from the neighborhood.

In meeting with Rachel Levy, Executive Director of Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts regarding discussions about a possible photography exhibit of Manhattan Sideways’ stunning UES photos, she thought that beyond just her collection of photos, “What if Art on the Ave (the recently founded art organization that used pandemic-empty storefronts to create public art walks) meet the side streets?”

“Because I’m all about the side streets,” Bober Polivy said, “I’ve dedicated the last 12 years walking every single side street in Manhattan to try and shine a light on small businesses, and Barbara [Anderson of Art on the Ave NYC] is all about shining a light on the artists, on just making New York a more beautiful place.”

Several months later, Beyond the Bricks was born: beyond the bricks of the building to creating community – business owners, artists, historians, authors, art lovers, anyone just visiting or those who live on the Upper East Side.

“The Texture of the Neighborhood”

Levy said Friends of the Upper East Side, the 40-year-old neighborhood organization, is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the architectural heritage, livability, and sense of place of the Upper East Side.

“This project is about looking at neighborhood businesses, the history of buildings – those century-old buildings that these businesses occupy – and local art that enliven the street scene; we bring them all together to look at what the texture of the neighborhood is – beyond the bricks, so to speak.”

She added that there were over 50 locations currently being profiled on their website, including about 22 that have art in them already – both windows of vacant stores and occupied businesses, and that more than 25 of the business owners were present in the pub for the launch, along with many other supporters of the project.

Levy thanked local Council Member Julie Menin, Chair of the Small Business Committee on the City Council, for her support and for funding a large portion of the project. She also said how fortunate she felt working with Betsy Bober Polivy and Barbara Anderson who have “brought enormous energy and capacity and warmth in capturing business stories, and in production of the project.”

Anderson was equally enthused about the great reception the artists and artwork of Art on the Ave NYC was receiving and extended an invitation for all to come along on one of the art walks that she hosts on a regular basis.

As a relatively new New Yorker she said “getting to know the city through Art on the Ave has been my honor and my pleasure, and this neighborhood has been incredibly welcoming – from the small businesses to the newer business that I’ve gone into; people on the street already stopping and admiring the art – it’s been just wonderful!”

Bober Polivy thanked Jim Gerding, owner of Ryan’s Daughter located on East 85th Street, and a very busy host, for sharing his establishment for the event, also thanking the local small businesses that provided appetizers, sweets and floral arrangements that made the launch such a success.

For more information on this exhibition and community project that benefits artists, businesses and neighbors, please visit:

Friends of the Upper East Side:

Manhattan Sideways:

Art on the Ave NYC: