Local artist transforms Bay Ridge outdoor dining barriers into works of art

Artist Nicole Stuart poses with the outdoor dining mural she painted for Gino’s on Fifth Avenue.
Photo by Meaghan McGoldrick

A southern Brooklyn artist hand-painted a handful of outdoor dining spaces on Bay Ridge’s Fifth Avenue, transforming the colorless barriers into vibrant displays throughout the commercial thoroughfare. 

“It brings positive attention to a business in such a time of hardship and struggle for a lot of people,” said Nicole Stuart, a local artist living in Bensonhurst. 

The project, conducted in collaboration with the Bay Ridge Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District, aims to help small business owners spruce up their dining spaces and bring more attention to their eateries. 

“It brings a much different space,” Stuart said. “Something as simple as now having your name hand-painted, I feel like that is a different vibe. I just think it brings attention in a different way and people appreciate it.”

Stuart, who founded Building Brooklyn Street Art, an organization promoting community-based street art, said she is constantly scouring free space outdoors to use as her canvas — most recently working with the BID to paint a selection of public benches along the avenue

“I will be driving around and any free space I see, I think, ‘A mural would look great there,'” she said. “So to me, it was just like, this is open space we should be using and it’s currently not that appealing to the eye — let’s fix this.”

For the BID’s executive director, the project just seemed “natural” — a way to support local restaurants during the pandemic while promoting the neighborhood’s artsy feel. 

“The restaurants are really happy — it just brightens things up, it makes their outdoor space look better and everyone seems to really enjoy it,” said Amanda Zenteno. “And [the restaurant owners] felt really good about getting that support from the BID and getting some artwork out on the avenue.”

In under two weeks, half a dozen area restaurants were sporting designs from Stuart.

“We were not sure how many businesses were even going to have applicable space for it,” she said. “But then it all went quickly, I did all six spaces in a week and a half.” 

All the artwork was conceived with input from the local restaurant owners, who were asked to select three colors emblematic to their restaurant to start off, which Stuart then tried not to stray from in an effort to keep costs covered by the BID low. “Businesses including my own are on the struggle bus right now,” Stuart said. “So we were trying to make it affordable.”

Schnitzel Haus’ beautified barriers.Photo by Meaghan McGoldrick

Owners of Bay Ridge’s staple for German fare, Schnitzel Haus, said Stuart’s design has ramped up their presence on the avenue — showcasing their business name better than ever before. 

“I like the whole branding aspect of it,” said Amber Urban. “We have our name out in front of the building, but there is a tree in front of the building so it’s not necessarily visible from the street. This gives us more.” 

The colors also help their outdoor dining spaces stand out among the 31 restaurants currently open for outdoor dining on Bay Ridge’s Fifth Avenue, Urban said. 

“It is right there street level so you know who it belongs to,” she said.

Stuart hopes to beautify even more barricades throughout the borough.

“I am super passionate about this stuff, I just feel like it should be like this,” Stuart said. “If I can make one person’s day better, one more patron come to their business, why wouldn’t I want to try to facilitate that?”

The BID also aims to continue the collaboration with Stuart, as well as other local artists.

“Frankly, we are going to keep doing it,” Zenteno said. “It’s our goal to find more ways to bring art to the avenue, a little bit every year.”