On Governors Island, Artists Get a Breath of Fresh Air

As Sabine Schumacher sat on the front steps of a 19th-century brick house on Governors Island, a handful of visitors with cameras perched in front of the house next door and gazed into a thicket of weeds for hours.  

Schumacher is used to odd scenes on the island, especially in its historic Colonels’ Row district. The BronxArtSpace director recently finished unloading a U-Haul filled with art materials that she drove from the gallery in Hunts Point to the ferry at the tip of Manhattan for her fourth summer as a participant in Organizations in Residence, a seasonal artists residency run by Governors Island Arts since 2010. Among them was a swath of colorful fabric figures created by Bronx middle school students with artist Lexy Ho-Tai and Metropolitan Opera singer Anthony Roth Costanzo, which she installed in the living room of Colonels’ Row Building 410A, one of several three-story brick structures that once housed military officers and their families when the island served as the United States Army headquarters after the Civil War.

“I want to give the artists the freedom to be here so they don’t have to deal with so many other things,” she told Hyperallergic. “It’s worth it for the artists to come even though it’s a long way to have a room for free for a few months.” 

The annual Organizations in Residence program, which opened to the public on May 18, welcomed 28 arts and cultural nonprofit groups to transform several former military homes on the island into temporary art studios. Often spanning multiple floors, the workspaces are open for visitors from May to November, though some groups rotate artists so their individual residencies last only three months. 

It may well be one of the most accessible residencies in the city, for both visitors and artists alike. Unlike other programs, artists aren’t required to create a certain amount of work or meet with collectors — although they do have to catch an eight-minute ferry to Manhattan or Brooklyn by dusk since they can’t stay on the island overnight (amenities are few, as the island got drinking water only a decade ago, although there are a handful of food trucks providing lunch).

For Indigenous Andean American artist Coralina Rodriguez Meyer, who is participating in the residency this year with the AnkhLave Arts Alliance, a Harlem-based nonprofit focused on artists of color, the arrangement was ideal.

“I don’t have the pressure of producing a certain project, so I can bring my daughter out and we can make things and develop relationships that are more expansive, rather than saying, ‘Oh I’m just here to sell my work,’” she explained. “You have a relationship with the landscape idea of an urban island, natural habitat, and ecological framework here.”

Most organizations also curate site-specific installations and performances from artists participating in the residency. On opening weekend alone, a living sculpture of succulents and mosses by artist Natalie Collette Wood sat outside the BronxArtSpace studio, while the R&B percussion band UTL performed at AnkhLave’s space two houses down. 

Further down Colonels’ Row, Queens-based art organization Flux Factory celebrated its 30th anniversary with its Saturn Return group show, and an outpost of the New York Audubon Society held a guided birdwatching tour (the group that Schumacher spied were birders hoping for a glimpse of a rare warbler).

The arts program has also been a key driver in the transformation of Governor’s Island into a recreational destination over the past few years, which has been met with mixed feelings from New Yorkers and artists who’ve long worked and collaborated there. The island is also the home to the Billion Oyster Project, a teaching farm that runs a harbor restoration project, grows fresh produce, and trains high school students to enter maritime industries. 

But newcomers may be startled to see a luxury spa, glamping retreat, and dockside seafood bar mere steps from the ferry terminal. A Stony Brook University campus and climate research center are in the works and a hotel could soon arrive, which may bring even more people to the island year-round.

Lebanese-Brazilian artist Cecilia André, who co-curated AnkhLave’s group show Claimed and Reclaimed with Christine Stoddard, sees Organizations in Residence as a welcome opportunity to share Governors Island’s arts community with new visitors. 

“I feel very connected with this island,” she said. “To be in a paradise like this, I don’t find it hard to come here.”

Editor’s note 5/28/24 10:58am EST: A previous version of this article stated that Organizations in Residence is managed by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. The residency is run by Governors Island Arts. The article has been corrected.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top