For many restaurants, art and frills are things that are just not in the budget, no matter how badly they may want to incorporate them. 

The Neighborhood Curbside Canvas Project set out to change that. By pairing local artists with local restaurant owners, they’ve created a grassroots community of generosity that aims to help everyone involved. While both artists and restaurants are struggling right now, artists do the projects on a volunteer basis, with a strong desire to help their communities. Mutual aid projects including Welcome to Chinatown in Manhattan’s Chinatown leverage the visual savvy of artists and designers to help support local businesses in this precarious time.

For Gene Gerovich, the owner of That Bar in Park Slope, this was a game changer, as he’d not have been able to afford adornment of his outdoor space otherwise. 

“Most restaurants and businesses are running at best at 25% of their old selves. The amount of costs associated with converting to COVID, complying with all the rules, is insane. We’re barely keeping afloat,”  Gerovich said. 

Still, it was important to him to provide joy and beauty in his space. 

“Whenever you put art or music outside, it only will do good. It reminds people to be alive,” Gerovich said. “I took out as much as I could out of my pocket to build an outdoor structure so that they could paint it.” 

Natalie Minyu Li is an artist who has been working with the project since their first installation last September at Homemade by Miriam in Tribeca. Now, she and two other artists are assigned to That Bar. 

Artists at work at That Bar. Image courtesy of the Neighborhood Curbside Canvas Project.

“We wanted to find a way to incorporate our artistic styles into the design, as well as work with the restaurant owner, Gene, on what he wanted. This is more of a local community restaurant, so he really wanted to reflect the local Brooklyn vibe,” Minyu Li said. The group landed on a colorful design showcasing a waiter serving food, with patrons doing various activities. 

“We just wanted to depict a scene that was reflective of the restaurant’s food and also the mood and the joy it tends to bring to the community,” Minyu Li said. 

The project has given Minyu Li a unique opportunity. 

Work in progress at That Bar. Image courtesy of the Neighborhood Curbside Canvas Project.

“For me, as an artist, one of the major things that I enjoy the most is being able to spread my art and being able to share my skills with the world. I found it to be especially satisfying to be able to share it to the local community. Given the recent digital revolution it’s a lot easier for us to share our art through the internet, and it’s great that it reaches a wider audience, but it’s not as satisfying as being able to talk to the people that look at your art, and being able to have that connection to the audience,” Minyu Li, a current Brooklyn resident, said. 

Other restaurants that have been involved in the program include The Grey Dog in Greenwich Village, Javelina in Union Square, Mom’s Kitchen & Bar in Astoria, and Lion’s Head Tavern on the Upper West Side. The project is still accepting new areas, volunteers, and restaurants.