Artists give Brooklyn benches a facelift with custom paint jobs

Locals pose with the newly painted bench. (Bay Ridge Fifth Avenue BID)

A group of artists are embellishing Bay Ridge benches along Fifth Avenue with hand-painted designs as part of a long term project to beautify the commercial corridor, said the initiative’s leader.

“We were trying to figure out what the neighborhood needed and we spoke to all sorts of folks in the district,” said Michael Devigne, a project manager with the Bay Ridge Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District. “What I first discovered is there are a lot of artists in Bay Ridge, and you don’t normally hear much about that.” 

The Bay Ridge business boosters commissioned a group of New York City-based artists for the “Arts on the Avenue” project. The initiative — which is funded with a grant from the Department of Small Business Services — intends to bring colorful art to existing surfaces along the avenue. 

Beautifying the main commercial thoroughfare is also expected to be a boon to Bay Ridge’s small businesses by bringing an increase in foot traffic and enhancing the neighborhood’s sense of place, artists said. 

“Art is important throughout all communities,” said Alicia Degener, a Bay Ridge artist involved with the project. “People react to art whether they have studied art or just know what they like. Art beautifies our neighborhood and gives people a sense of pride in their community.”

So far, artists have painted 11 benches along the corridor — from 68th Street to 83rd Street — adorning the surfaces with urban landscapes, geometric designs, and other images that showcase their individual styles.

“Each artist brings their own vision of what they want to share,” Degener said. 

Alicia Degener

The BID connected with the local Picassos through a southern Brooklyn artists group, according to Degener, who has also collaborated with the BID on other local projects, such as the Fifth Avenue Fair. 

Some locals may recognize Degener’s bench, located between Bay Ridge Parkway and 74th Street, from its resemblance to a window painting right next to it, where she painted bubbles at the beginning of the pandemic. 

In the next steps of the “Arts on the Avenue” program, the BID is planning to host events to celebrate the new art installments and to commission more public art projects over the grant’s three-year span. 

“We want to have mini-events around the benches and try to generate more foot traffic and involve the merchants that are located near the benches,” Devigne said. 

This story first appeared on our sister publication brooklynpaper.com.