David Scalza’s art garden is filled with colorful tapestries, musical instruments, potted plants, and bunting. But the garden wasn’t always so nice. In fact, 20 years ago, the garden wasn’t a garden at all. Before Scalza created the art oasis, the New York City lot outside his rent-stabilized apartment was stricken by crack and crime.
In a New York Times article aptly titled, “The Garden Thief,” 57-year-old Scalza described the old apartment lot as being run by “intimidation and obnoxiousness.” But Scalza decided to fight the issues with art “instead of fists.”
What began as a simple window-box plant multiplied to an art garden made entirely of found objects (such as discarded furniture) that the former art teacher arranged into pleasing installations, sculptures, and designs. One of the stranger installations include a children’s spring rocking horse with a doll-head swapped out for the horse’s head.
In the past, Scalza had trouble with tenants sabotaging his art garden and visitors playing the musical instruments loudly at night. One time, the city’s Department of Buildings even gave Scalza’s landlord a citation because the art blocked the fire escapes. But no matter what problems the artist faced, he always reinstalled the art.
While Scalza’s neighbors have opposing views over whether the art garden is a masterpiece or an eyesore, many tourists flock to the garden to catch a glimpse of the project that now extends beyond three nearby building backyards between 9th and 10th Avenue on West 56th.
The garden isn’t a public place, strictly-speaking, but it can be used by anyone who asks to “for the right reasons,” Scalza told the New York Times. Sometimes, the space is even borrowed for baby showers and wedding parties. In fact, what was once a drug-ridden lot is now a selling point for new move-ins to the apartment complex.