On the Ground is a yearlong research project and exhibition series about New York City’s ground floor. Through a close look at the urban typology of the storefront, this expansive endeavor presents newly commissioned artistic explorations and dialogues about the critical role storefronts play in shaping public life. The project will unfold through three exhibitions, a radio show, an open call, a public program, and a thematic reader. 


Informed by Storefront for Art and Architecture’s peculiar relationship with the sidewalk, On the Ground reflects on the critical role storefronts play in shaping public life. While empty storefronts have been ubiquitous in the city long before the pandemic, the impact of the last two years has seen an even greater proliferation of ground floor vacancies which has altered the urban fabric, and in doing so, the experience of moving through the city.


This themed series looks at how ground floor retail spaces are markers of social, political, and economic transformation. Both inside and on the sidewalk, social infrastructures are set in motion (and sustained) on the ground floor of cities. Retail establishments sit at the intersection of a cultural ecosystem underpinned by local merchants, developers, supply chains, local governments, and ultimately, an amalgam of individual interests and collective identities. On the Ground invites artists, architects, designers, writers, scholars, and the public at large to engage with the unique stories of the storefronts that give identity to New York City’s changing built environment.
The threat to these evanescent urban spaces is not easily untangled. Small business storefronts, especially in a “post-pandemic” condition, are signs of economic dissonance. The voids visible by their vacancies across the city are evidence of a real and symbolic rise in eviction. Booming real estate markets and speculative rent increases are effectively decimating this mode of social resilience. Furthermore, commercial displacement is experienced differently across neighborhoods, having disproportionate effects on various socioeconomic and racial demographics. A focused study on storefronts is also a way to explore the spatial challenges of the rise in online consumption that has reshaped the street, threatening brick-and-mortar retail while inundating neighborhoods with delivery vehicles.  
On the Ground probes how this fragile urban form can enable carescapes within diverse communities, providing refuge and belonging by maintaining an intimacy of local life.


On the Ground: Exhibitions
Storefront will present three newly commissioned solo exhibitions from New York-based artists under the framework of On the Ground. Each project will be in dialogue with an off-site ground floor space somewhere in New York City that acts as a launch pad to study these polemics. 
From March 1st through May 27th, we will open with an exhibition by Canal Street Research Association, a fictional office of the poetic research collective Shanzhai Lyric. Titled New Land Plaza: You Can’t Beat a New York Original, the exhibition will explore shanzhai methodologies such as mimicking, redistribution of resources, and parody to create a portrait of New Land Plaza, a former marble storage facility turned mini-mall on Canal Street that was the site of the infamous Bloomberg “Counterfeit Triangle” bust of 2008. 
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From June 17th through September 9th, we will present an exhibition by artist Francisca Benítez and her explorations of the city through her work on performance and the politics of space. The exhibition will explore Benítez’s practice in relation to her participation in the defense of public space, including her engagement with groups such as Art Against Displacement, Chinatown Working Group, East River Park Action, and the Stop Shopping Choir. The latter currently occupies the storefront of a former bank at 36 Avenue C in the East Village, which has been transformed into the Earth Church, performing services on Sundays. This exhibition acts as an interlocutor between this site and Storefront’s gallery. 
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From October 7th to December 16th, we will present the work of artist Ilana Harris-Babou, an exhibition that reflects on storefronts that engage alternative ways of teaching and learning in the neighborhoods in Central Brooklyn where she grew up. From a cooperatively-run alternative preschool to an Afrocentric martial arts space, Harris-Babou unpacks how the pedagogical use of storefronts has become an essential artery to share knowledge within the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Wingate, Flatbush, and their shifting demographics. 
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On the Ground: Open Call
Alongside our exhibitions, we are also launching an open call—a strategy used by Storefront since its early years—to engage a wider public with this theme and serve as a platform for new ideas. The open call will be launched this Spring and invites artists, architects, writers, curators, and creative individuals to submit proposals for a month long exhibition to be presented at Storefront’s gallery in January 2024. The selected application will receive institutional support, a budget, and a fee to develop and realize the project.  
On the Ground: Broadcasts
Throughout the year, Storefront will be collaborating with the independent online radio Montez Press Radio to release On the Ground: Broadcasts, a series of radio programs that further explore the subject through staged conversations, interviews, readings, etc. Set in their recording studio and performance space in Chinatown, these broadcasts provide another platform to disseminate our ongoing generative research. These four radio broadcasts will collage case studies, conversations, and field recordings to weave our findings together.
On the Ground: Open Sessions
During the last week of each month Storefront will open the gallery for On the Ground: Open Sessions, inviting a different guest to curate and host the evening. These informal gatherings will open a space for collective learning where critical issues surrounding the transformation of New York’s ground floor are shared and discussed. 
On the Ground: Reader
A publication with excerpts from the cumulative research, new commissions, and archival materials will be published at the end of this yearlong program. 


2023 – 2024 Calendar

Canal Street Research Association March 1 – May 27
        Broadcast 1: Threshold March 26
        Open Session 1 March 29
        Open Session 2  April 25
        Open Session 3  May 30
Francisca Benítez June 17 – September 9
        Open Session 4 June 27
      Broadcast 2: Void July 2
        Open Session 5 July 25
        Open Session 6 August 29
Ilana Harris-Babou October 7th – December 16th
        Open Session 7 September 26
        Open Session 8 October 25
        Broadcast 3: Public October 22
        Open Session 9 November 29
        Broadcast 4: Analogue December 3
Open Call Exhibition

January 20, 2024 – February 17, 2024


On the Ground is conceived and organized by the Storefront Team

Graphic design by Estudio Herrera 

Photography by PJ Rountree 


Storefront’s On the Ground program is made possible through the support of the Graham Foundation, the Ruth Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature; public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; the Storefront Circle and Storefront’s Board of Directors, members, and individual donors.