For the Holidays, Artists Breathe Life into Vacant Downtown Storefronts

Artist Calicho Arevalo in his temporary studio and exhibit space, a vacant former bagel store at 25 John Street. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Dec. 02, 2023

Through December, a half-dozen vacant storefronts around Nassau Street, including a former Hallmark Greeting Card store, bagel shop, and nail salon, have returned to life as pop-up showcases and temporary studios for artists. Called Art Above the Mantel, the initiative is a collaboration between Art on the Ave NYC and the Downtown Alliance that also gives the artists faux fireplace mantels to be transformed into holiday-inspired creations of their own. The program also includes a series of events and activities. Go here for more information. 

“It’s not easy to do things in vacant retail spaces, particularly if the owners are hoping to lease them in the longer term,” said Downtown Alliance president Jessica Lappin. “But at least activate them for now, particularly over the holidays when there will be more people out and about in the neighborhood.”

“It just seemed like a way to givw a little shot in the arm to Nassau Street,” she added. 

Below, five of the artists talk about the work they are doing in their spaces. The text is edited for clarity and brevity. Other artists in the program include Shanequa Benitez, Lance Johnson, Jon Souza, and Barry Mason.


Calicho Arevalo, 25 John St. (former bagel store)

They told me they have this last spot and it’s not the best but would I like to have it. Initially the floor was dirty and everything was dark and I was like, it looks kind of weird. But you know, I’m down. I’m going to do it and I’m going to make it nice. I want people to get some warmth from my country, something very colorful. I want to make in these dark corners something very beautiful. When you see something bright or something different, sometimes you stop for a minute. This wasn’t here. I’m trying to invite people to come over and see how I live from the art and also tell them every single painting has a story. Many of the clothes and stuff that I paint are full of doodles related to the city, so I feel like the mantel is the way to express myself during these holidays. And we are here to bring some happiness.  


Clod, 28 Liberty St., formerly vacant street level space

When I first got the mantel I thought about what I would want my mantel to look like if I had one at home. So I’ve added fire and some rocks and original art pieces. I also have a new clean canvas and I’m going to set up a camera livestream my painting on TikTok. And then people walking by can actually see the progress of the piece. And that's what I’m doing. And then this is also an exhibit space. People can buy everything.


Amir Diop, 72 Nassau St. (former nail salon)

This whole area here was all dusty and grimy. I helped clear it out. It was closed for so long that a rat had died back there and decomposed. Everything here now is tied around the theme of my book, “Lionel the Lying Lion,” and the whole space is completely interactive because my book is 100 percent interactive. All you have to do is scan a QR code and it brings the book to life through augmented reality. It animates and narrates the book as the kids are reading. We are still not fully complete with setting stuff up here. I'm looking to paint a false fire inside the fireplace and possibly have a toy train that loops around. I just finished wrapping a bunch of gifts so we could put gifts underneath the Christmas tree. There’s still certain little things that I still want to add to make it more jolly and more Christmas-like. 

Kate Fauvell, 28 Liberty St., formerly vacant interior space

I do my own photographs around the city and print them and build layers and layers of different parts of different neighborhoods. My mantel is sort of a collaboration of a bunch of different styles. I’ve abstracted some of the photographs and then built a neighborhood out of multiple neighborhoods. To be engaging here with the public has such a profound effect on the art making process. As a New Yorker doing work about New York it allows for conversations. People can come in and say, “Oh, thats my neighborhood. And then it starts a connection. I think thats really important, making my art accessible to people who maybe normally would not have an entryway in.  

Lucas Goly, 33 Maiden Lane (former Godiva store)

This is a wearable art space. You’ve got everything from clothes with wearable art on it to my actual paintings that I do every day. I was thinking about Christmas for the mantel but the thing is when I think about Christmas I can only think about Tim Burton. I wanted something with a very Tim Burton vibe where it looks a little dark but at the same time it’s a passageway into this next realm. In the movie [“The Nightmare Before Christmas”] you could open the tree to whatever holiday, and you fall in. You come in here you fall into my mantel and you end up in this art world. That’s what you get.