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Plywood and positivity: National Arts Club features Soho storefront murals from summer of tumult

It seems like long ago now that plywood barriers festooned storefronts across Downtown Manhattan. A bright moment — and vivid memory — from that time was how artists transformed that bleak landscape into a vibrant and powerful canvas.

In a new free exhibition, beginning on Mon., March 8, the National Arts Club is featuring the work of the Art2Heart artist collective, whose members turned that sea of plywood into messages of positivity.

“What Happened This Summer: ART2HEART” continues the club’s exploration of the outburst of creativity that occurred in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movements of 2020.

Art2Heart played a major role in transforming the plywood barricades into messages of compassion, healing and universal love. The core group embraced artists from ages 6 to 76 from all races and from all five boroughs and beyond.

The core group coalesced on June 2, 2020. They then sent out a call for artists to bring optimism, healing and love to Soho, by painting messages of compassion and unity onto the boarded-up buildings to welcome change. The call created a context that ignited artists, from first-timers to the world-renowned, from all races, from all boroughs and beyond, to come and express their emotional, spiritual and political cries for much needed social change.

A painting by Gordon Kindlon in the Art2Heart exhibit. (Courtesy NAC)

With all of Soho becoming a canvas, and because of the enclave’s history, the painting continued through the summer, with more than 700 paintings created by 300-plus artists.

“This exhibition continues our ongoing effort to highlight the current issues facing our society — including matters of race, social justice and equality — through the arts,” said Ben Hartley, NAC executive director. “We are committed to putting a spotlight on these important issues while inviting a diverse group of artists to exhibit in our galleries.”

This past December, the club hosted “Voices of the Soho Renaissance,” an exhibition of works completed by the Soho Renaissance Factory artist collective in response to the coronavirus lockdown and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Timur York holding the stencil he used to paint the image at the top of this article. Tribeca photographer Milo Hess helped York document painting some of his street art last summer. (Photo by Milo Hess)

“Art2Heart was formed at a dark hour in Soho’s history, as an answer to despair seen and felt in the boarded-up neighborhood, in the wake of protests, racial tensions and injustice in the summer of 2020,” said Timur York, one of the exhibiting artists and a core group member of Art2Heart. “That answer was the show of love, propelled forward by the power of art. This showcase features the core group of artists at the heart of the movement, joined by artists who answered their call. Art2Heart is inspired to share our vision of love and unity through art, this time at The National Arts Club.”

Artists included in the exhibition are Miriam Novalle, Bobbi Van, Kamila Otcasek, Timur York, Ariana Villar and Alberto Barreto, Maxi Cohen, Gordon Kindlon, Stefanie Frank, Andre Russell and Nobuho Nagasawa.

The exhibition is on view at the NAC’s historic landmark clubhouse, at 15 Gramercy Park South, through March 31.

The gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Reservations to visit the gallery must be made at nationalartsclub.org/exhibitions.

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