Governors Island’s location in the middle of New York Harbor
makes it the ideal setting for initiatives that engage with the city’s
waterways and champion New Yorkers’ relationships with their local waterfront.
That’s one of the reasons Governors Island is home to the Billion Oyster
Project (BOP), a nonprofit dedicated to restoring New York’s oyster population
and, in doing so, cleaning up the waterways that allow the City’s residents — of
all species — to thrive.
While Billion Oyster Project’s ‘field season’ runs from
April through October, the organization operates year-round on Governors Island
in two main offices. During warmer months on GI, BOP volunteers prepare oyster
shells for use in manmade reefs, create new reefs from shells that nurture
juvenile oysters (which grow, multiply, and clean the Harbor), and perform
water quality assessments and reef checkups. In 2019, nearly 1,000 volunteers
completed over 4,700 hours of work on BOP projects. Coordinating this
remarkable effort requires a huge amount of preparation for the extensive
lineup of programs during the field season, which features 3-5 volunteer events
in a typical week. The off-season months are spent planning for the rest of the
year’s projects and exploring new methods of growing oysters and introducing
them to the Harbor. The current off-season will be BOP’s busiest yet; they’re
planning to double their reef production in 2020, which means there’s even more
preparation to be done this winter.
Headquartering on Governors Island provides BOP with opportunities for unique partnerships with other Island-based organizations. BOP works closely with Earth Matter, which operates the Compost Learning Center in the Urban Farm, to process empty oyster shells recycled by Island Oyster. After processing by Earth Matter, the shells are cured in BOP’s Shell Curing Site before being used in new reefs. In 2019, Earth Matter delivered over 75,000 lbs of shells to BOP for curing. The Shell Curing Site also collects shells from restaurants across the five boroughs, which are all hand-processed by BOP volunteers. To date, over one million pounds of shells have been cured by BOP on Governors Island.
BOP also works extensively with another Governors Island
tenant, the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School. The Harbor School, a
550-student high school, offers a maritime vocational curriculum across seven
areas of specialized study, all of which make use of the Harbor as a classroom.
BOP supports these programs by bringing in industry specialists to share their
knowledge, like BOP staff diver Zoë Greenberg who leads students on scientific
dives around the Harbor. BOP staff members also help run after-school programs
like the Welding Club, Waterfront Club, and Aquaponics Club. On Fridays,
students from all seven specialized tracks meet for BOP’s Harbor Corps, where
they share their current studies and work together on initiatives to support
the organization’s mission. Many Harbor School students continue their
involvement with BOP outside the school year through summer internships.
With a mission to clean New York Harbor and restore its biodiversity, where better for Billion Oyster Project to make their home than right in its heart? By locating their headquarters on Governors Island, BOP gains valuable and unique partnerships, space to operate their extensive programs, and unparalleled access to the largest single feature in the City’s vast marine ecosystem all year long. With Billion Oyster Project’s expertise and hard work leading the way, New York Harbor will be bursting with bivalves in no time.
To learn more about Billion Oyster Project, visit their website, follow them on Instagram and Twitter, or pay them a visit when Governors Island reopens to the public this spring.
2019 was one of Governors Island's biggest and best years yet. Since opening to the public nearly 15 years ago, Governors Island has made great strides towards becoming a year-round resource for all New Yorkers. We’re proud to share this year’s achievements and highlights as we work to make Governors Island even better.
Governors Island is open to the public for 6 months each year. Visitors enjoy this jewel in the Harbor spring, summer and fall, staying out for evening dining, stargazing and movies on the Parade Ground during extended summertime late-night hours.
As of this year, 6 million visitors have set sail for Governors Island since we opened to the public, with nearly 1 million setting foot on our shore in 2019.
Governors Island is an affordable, go-to getaway for New Yorkers: 80% of our 2019 visitors came from New York City.
The South Island’s lush parkland beckoned visitors to climb the Hills, relax in Hammock Grove, and enjoy sports of all kinds on the Play Fields.
Over 4,600 free weekday morning bike rentals from Blazing Saddles got people pedaling along the Island's car-free paths while nearly 1,000 free Saturday kayak sessions with the Downtown Boathouse got them paddling in the Harbor.
Hungry visitors fired up our public grills 617 times for gatherings at Picnic Point and Nolan Park.
A diverse array of over 80 events, programs and activities thrilled Governors Island visitors this year, 70 of them completely free.
Governors Island prioritizes composting, with over 75,000 lbs of material diverted from the waste stream from vendors, tenants, events and public bins to Earth Matter's Compost Learning Center in the Urban Farm, where visitors gained firsthand knowledge and experience on weekends.
Billion Oyster Project has cured over 1 million lbs of oyster shells on the Island for use in new reefs that help restore New York’s oyster population, clean its waterways and promote biodiversity.
Birds continue to thrive on our shore—birders and the avian enthusiasts of NYC Audubon have recorded 206 individual species of birds on Governors Island.
LMCC’s new Arts Center at Governors Island opened this September as the Island's first year-round tenant dedicated to arts and culture, inviting the public to explore its expansive galleries and join special events. The space will serve 40 resident artists year-round with free studio space.
The Urban Assembly New York Harbor School began its 10th school year on Governors Island this September, engaging more than 500 students with a maritime career and technical curriculum that utilizes the Harbor as a classroom.
Our Horticulture team cares year-round for over 120 acres of open space (that's over 90 football fields), filling the landscape with strategic plantings that keep the Island's ecosystems thriving, resilient and biodiverse.
2,300 Friends of Governors Island volunteers donated 11,000 hours of their time this year to keep Governors Island looking its best.
Next year, we’ll continue working to make Governors Island the 365-day-a-year destination that New York deserves it to be. Keep an eye out for announcements about next season and how we’re expanding access even more in 2020.Next year, we’ll continue working to make Governors Island the 365-day-a-year destination that New York deserves it to be. Keep an eye out for announcements about next season and how we’re expanding access even more in 2020.
Governors Island’s long history as a military base stretches
over two centuries, from the Revolutionary War era until 1996. In 1913, on the
eve of World War 1 beginning in Europe, U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson
called the Island the “most valuable military property in the United States.” Troops
departed from Governors Island in 1917 to seize German-owned ships and
facilities in New York Harbor as the first act of the United States in the war.
In 1918, at the height of the U.S.’s involvement in the conflict, Governors
Island served as a training ground, embarkation point, and major storage and
shipping center that handled millions of dollars’ worth of essential supplies
and equipment, making it a major asset for the U.S. Army.
An island expansion project undertaken by the Army created
the southern half of Governors Island between 1900 and 1913. Largely vacant
until the beginning of the war, the new landscape saw its first occupants in
the form of prefabricated wooden barracks and warehouses that sprung up on the
flat, empty terrain. A 1918 aerial photo of the Island (top, courtesy Ann Buttenwieser) shows a tightly packed
formation of buildings on the South Island as well as a small railroad system.
The barracks housed soldiers being trained on the Island, waiting to ship out
to Europe or other training camps, or, like the 1,000 soldiers of the 22nd
Infantry Regiment, guarding the Harbor, the Island and the $75 million of
supplies and equipment stored there.
The work of handling supplies, hauling freight, and
maintaining equipment and the Island itself was largely handled by the enlisted
Black servicemen of the Labor Battalions. As all regiments and their housing
facilities were segregated at the time, Black soldiers frequently lived in
poorer conditions, many sleeping in tents on the Island rather than in the
barracks. During WWI, over 80% of Black servicemen were assigned to Labor Battalions,
whose hard work transformed the Island into its war-ready state. On Governors
Island, a critically important base for the U.S. Army in 1918, the duties
performed by the Labor Battalions were absolutely crucial to the war effort.
To support the logistical needs of moving goods onto, off
and around the Island, the Army constructed the Governors Island Railroad. In
1918, the GIRR comprised roughly eight miles of track and featured six engines
to move goods from piers to warehouses and back. While an invaluable part of
the Island’s infrastructure, the rail line was referred to at various times as
the “world’s shortest railroad.” The tiny but indispensable rail system helped
to ship over $1 million of supplies and equipment from the Island each day at
the height of the conflict.
The war stretched the Island’s infrastructure to its limits
in 1918, which saw over 3,000 people working on the Island on average every day.
Castle Williams, having served as a prison for decades, endured its most packed
quarters yet as nearly 900 inmates, many of them draft dodgers, squeezed into
the fort. Crowded conditions contributed to an influenza epidemic that swept
across Governors Island that year, with 516 cases cramming the Island’s Post
Hospital and requiring temporary wards to be set up in tents. With the Island
buzzing with wartime activities, the annual springtime Garden Party had to be
canceled. Not all aspects of life on Governors Island were difficult; music
played a large part in keeping morale up. The Army Music School, headquartered
on GI, saw its highest enrollment with over 45 recruits in 1918, and the famed
th Infantry Band regularly competed with Castle Williams’ prison
band to play Saturday night gigs at the Officers’ Club in South Battery.
In 1918, Governors Island hummed with the war
effort—soldiers training and shipping out, freight shipments coming and going,
locomotives chugging along the shore. Few reminders of that era remain 100 years
later, particularly on the South Island, where the temporary structures were
soon demolished and replaced. That terrain, once lined with barracks and
warehouses, now boasts four earthwork Hills from which visitors can take in a
landscape layered with history, some more visible than the rest.
New York, NY, December 9, 2019 – Shandaken Projects is pleased to announce the residents of the second season of Shandaken: Governors Island. Four individual artists and one collaborative group, all based in New York City, have been awarded one year of free studio space on Governors Island. As part of their residency with Shandaken: Governors Island, these cultural practitioners will have the opportunity to explore and learn about Governors Island and create work responding to its rich history, unique ecological framework and unparalleled vistas. The work of those selected spans the disciplines of poetry, dance, performance, sculpture, painting, and more.
This season’s residents will include: Zalika Azim, Jonathan González, Heidi Lau with Future Host, Jeremy Sorese, and Coco Young. The residents announced today were selected in partnership with theTrust for Governors Island from a public open call. Residents will work on Governors Island fall 2019through fall 2020, and in that time will deepen their practices while developing new work to be presentedduring Governors Island’s 2020 public season. These projects, offered each month between May andSeptember, will be offered to the island’s hundreds of thousands of visitors for free. The works presentedwill respond to the context of the island, as experienced by the residents during the course of their stay.
“Shandaken is proud to offer free studio space to important but under-recognized artists in one of the mostexpensive real estate markets in the world, in partnership with the Trust,” said Shandaken Projects director Nicholas Weist, “and the free programs created by our residents will be significant contributionsto the cultural landscape of this historic public site.”
“Shandaken: Governors Island’s inaugural year was a huge success, resulting in a deeply researched work, new professional relationships and thoughtful engagement with audiences,” said MeredithJohnson, The Trust for Governors Island’s VP of Arts & Culture, “we are thrilled to welcome this new group of exceptional artists to the Island, deepening our ever growing and trailblazing cultural community here at the center of New York Harbor.”
Shandaken: Governors Island complements Shandaken’s extensive history of producing context sensitive, process-focused opportunities for artists. Shandaken’s programs Shandaken: Storm King (a free residency produced onsite at and in partnership with the world renowned outdoor museum Storm KingArt Center) and Paint School (a free educational program hosted by NYU, The Cooper Union, The NewSchool, and more) run concurrently with Shandaken: Governors Island. Shandaken: Governors Island continues Shandaken’s interest in supporting experimentation, process, and dialogue by important artists, independent from the marketplace.
A full schedule of resident-led public programming, as well as a full calendar of arts and cultural programming on Governors Island for next summer, will be released in spring 2020.
About the residents:
Zalika Azim is a conceptual artist based in Brooklyn, New York. Extending from photography, her practice explores personal and collective narratives to investigate the ways in which memory, migration, movement, and the body are negotiated across and throughout the African diaspora. Azim’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, at venues including The Dean Collection, The International Center of Photography, Dorsky Gallery, 8th Floor Gallery, Diego Rivera Gallery, the Instituto Superior de Arte and The African American Museum in Philadelphia. She has completed solo projects with The Baxter Street Camera Club of New York and SOHO20. Azim holds a BFA in Photography and Imaging from the Tisch School of the Arts and a BA in Social and Cultural Analysis focused in Africana, Gender, and Sexuality studies from New York University. She has served as a teaching artist for Aperture Foundation, the Tisch School of the Art, and The Center for Court Innovation at Gavin Brown Gallery in Harlem. Zalika has assisted curatorial projects and research with The Walther Collection, the Photography Department at MoMA, and has previously served as The Studio Museum in Harlem's Imaging and Permanent Collections Associate. She is currently a curatorial fellow at NXTHVN in New Haven, CT, and will co-curate their inaugural exhibition during the winter of 2020.
Jonathan González is a NY-based artist working at the intersections of multidisciplinary andcollaborative practices for performance, text, sculpture, and film. Their work refers to the afterlives of slavery through eccentric juxtapositions, abstraction, and climate/planetary considerations. Works include: Working on Water in collaboration with Mario Gooden (Columbia School of Architecture, 2019), h/S: Jonathan González in collaboration with SB Fuller (CICCIO Gallery, 2019), Maroonage: Elaborations on the Stage and Staying Alive (Contact Quarterly), and Lucifer Landing I & II (MoMA PS1 x Abrons Arts Center, 2019). Curations include Sunday Service @ Knockdown Center and Movement Research Fall Festival: invisible material. An LMCC Workspace Resident (2018-19), NARS Foundation AIR (2018), Jerome Foundation Fellow (2019), Mertz Gilmore Grantee (2019), Diebold Awardee for Distinction in Choreography and Performance (2017), Soul Fire Farm BIPOC Fire (2019), and Bessie-nominee for Outstanding Production (ZERO, Danspace Project, 2018), and Breakout Choreographer (2019).
Heidi Lau (in residence with Future Host) grew up in Macau, and currently lives and works in New York. Lau’s highly textured and expressive ceramic work is modeled after tokens of remembrance—ritual objects, funerary monuments, and fossilized creatures—which are infested, deconstructed, and rebuilt by hand. Reconfiguring fragmented personal and collective memories, she makes collections of symbolic artifacts and zoomorphic ruins as materialization of the archaic and the invisible, taking inspiration from colonial architecture and tenement houses in Macau that have been demolished or gentrified beyond recognition. Her work has been exhibited in local and international institutions including the Museum of Arts and Design, New York; the Bronx Museum of the Art, New York; the Museum of Chinese in America, New York; and the Macau Museum of Art. Her practice has been supported by numerous residencies and awards, including the Emerging Artist Fellowship at Socrates Sculpture Park, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Process Space, the Martin Wong Foundation Scholarship, the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptor Grant and the BRIC Colene Brown Art Prize. She currently represents Macau at the 58th Venice Biennale. Future Host (Tingying Ma and Kang Kang) is an artist duo searching for alternative forms of subsistence and resistance. They consider the world as emotive and sentient that can only be processed through epistemic inquiries. Espousing the perspective of post-socialist realist emotional mismanagement, they write and make performances with readiness and ecstasy.
Jeremy Sorese (b. 1988, Berlin) is a queer cartoonist and painter based out of Brooklyn, NYC. After graduating with a BFA in Sequential Art from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2010, he was accepted to the La Maison des Auteurs, a comics specific residency program in Angoulême, France, where he lived and worked from 2012 through 2013. His first book, Curveball, published with Nobrow in the fall of 2015, was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. He is currently finishing a sequel titled ForThe Short While to be published with Archaia in 2020. He’s been teaching for the past nine years; from Elementary School children in Chicago, to the Maryland Institute College of Art, and most recently with Middle Schoolers as part of the after school arts program LeAp at M.S.51 in Park Slope. He’ll be teaching at Parsons School of Design this spring.
Coco Young (1989) is an artist who lives and works in New York. She was born in NYC and raised in Marseille, France. In 2019 she graduated with an MFA from Columbia University and holds a BA in Art History from the same institution. She works primarily in sculpture, installation, and video. Her recent work questions the validity of established linear notions of time and history through a feminist lens. She has had solo presentations at Interstate Projects (Brooklyn) and Princess (New York), and has exhibited at Downs & Ross (New York), Times Square Space (New York), the Wallach Art Gallery at the Lenfest Center for the Arts (NY), De School (Amsterdam), and at the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York).
Gardening team at work planting bulbs in Liggett Terrace.
This year, thanks to generous donations from supporters, Governors Island was able to hire our first-ever team of full-time, year-round gardeners. This small but mighty team of five cares for the 120 acres of open space on Governors Island–that’s the equivalent of 158 football fields! Each gardener focuses on a certain section, or “zone” of the Island's open spaces within the Historic District, and new park on the Southern portion of the Island. Assisted by the many helping hands of our corporate and individual volunteers, the team made a lot of great progress this year, including sowing 12 acres of seeds in the Hills, Hammock Grove and Liggett Terrace, pruning nearly 1,000 of the young trees in the new park and planting nearly 8,000 bulbs, which will bloom in 2020. Read on to learn more about the team and their important work.
Gardeners Dana (left) and Ben (right) working in their respective zones.
Malcolm Gardening Zone: Hammock Grove Tell us more about Hammock Grove: In addition to hammocks, Hammock Grove is home to the largest concentration of trees on the Island – 1,400 individual trees of 40 different species. I prune and care for them to foster a healthy and dynamic urban forest. Favorite plant on the Island: Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)–part of my job is to remove this invasive plant from the landscapes. I have a healthy respect for my adversary! Favorite place on the Island: Picnic Point, with it’s great view of the Statue of Liberty
Ben Gardening Zone: Hammock Grove What’s your day-to-day work like?: My role is to remove invasive phragmites and mugwort from Hammock Grove, so it remains a beautiful place for visitors to enjoy. Favorite plant on the Island: Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) Favorite place on the Island: Hammock Grove is divided into sections we call petals (because they look like the petals of a flower)–my favorite part of the Island is petal 12, near the Urban Farm.
Dana Gardening Zone: Liggett Terrace What’s your favorite thing about Liggett Terrace?: Liggett Terrace is a unique space to build upon my fine gardening and design experience, as it is a formal garden connecting the older, historic North Island, and the newer, experimental South Island. I love that Liggett allows me the chance to play with flowers and colors. Favorite plant on the Island: American Elm (Ulmus americana) Favorite place on the Island: Nolan Park in the historic district
Chris Gardening Zone: the Hills Tell us more about the Hills: The four Hills were designed to help the Island be more resilient to climate change and rising sea levels. In addition to providing a great view for visitors, they’re also home to 42,000 shrubs and 800 trees that increase the Island’s biodiversity and attract pollinators and birds. Favorite plant on the Island: Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) Favorite place on the Island: Discovery Hill
Kevin Gardening Zone: Outlook Hill and Discovery Hill Which is your favorite of the four Hills?: Slide Hill is probably the most fun hill. I make sure it remains a fun place for kids of all ages to climb and play. Favorite plant on the Island: Summer Sweet Shrub (Clethra alnifolia) Favorite place on the Island: Rachel Whiteread’s Cabin on Discovery Hill
While Governors Island is closed for the season, the Horticulture team is still actively keeping the Island’s plants and landscapes healthy during the winter, while also strategically planning for the upcoming season. Keeping Governors Island vibrant is a year-round job!
Want to support the gardening team? Consider making a donation. Donations support their work to care for and beautify Governors Island’s landscapes, ensuring this Island remains a lush oasis for all New Yorkers to enjoy.
Though Governors Island is currently closed to the public until next spring, year-round tenants bring hundreds of people to the Island every weekday to work and study in this unique environment.
One of these year-round tenants, LMCC’s Arts Center at Governors Island, opened this September with over 40,000 square feet of spacious galleries, welcoming activity space and versatile artist studios. Visitors perused the exhibitions at this renovated former munitions warehouse Thursdays through Sundays during the public season and participated in a wide variety of programs at the Take Care series every Saturday. While it waits for visitors to return next year, LMCC’s Arts Center is far from dormant.
Sixteen artists-in-residence utilize the Arts Center’s studio space year-round to work on a variety of projects spanning visual arts and writing, while choreographers work on dance pieces in the Arts Center’s practice spaces. The studios, one of which is provided to each artist for free, are open Mondays through Fridays for the residents to use all year. These roomy, light-filled works spaces afford room for their residents to practice printmaking, videography, sculpture, writing, and more, while the environment of the Arts Center and Governors Island itself provide a distinctive setting for creating art.
“The term 'incubator' very much resonated with us as we envisioned what LMCC’s Arts Center could be in this exciting new phase, and ensuring that residencies were an integral part of its identity feels like a natural manifestation of that metaphor. It also feels important to support as many diverse voices, artists, and practitioners through these programs so that we can build a cultural hub that is true to LMCC's mission. Our hope is that through this unique triangulation of space, time, and locale afforded by LMCC’s Arts Center at Governors Island, we're not only serving artists but inviting them to help reimagine New York City's cultural landscape” - Bora Kim, LMCC Program Manager, Artist Residencies
“For nearly 50 years, LMCC has served, connected and made space for artists and community. The expansion of LMCC's Arts Center at Governors Island and its residency program is an incredible milestone for both LMCC and Governors Island. LMCC's role in connecting Governors Island's audiences to the creative process has grown as well, through public programs and exhibitions as well as the support of artists of all disciplines with opportunities to incubate and present work that focuses on ecology, sustainability and resilience. We look forward to uniting artists and communities under our roof, an open and generous sanctuary with a view!” - Lili Chopra, LMCC Executive Director of Artistic Programs
The current resident artists, who make up the inaugural cohort of the residency program, have use of the space until November 2020, when a new selection of artists will move in. Visitors can see works created at LMCC’s Arts Center during Open Studios weekends held periodically in the public season.
Read what two of the current Resident Artists have to say about their Arts Center residencies below.
What projects are you working on at the Arts Center? “Blued Trees, Black Skies,” is about the tension between fossil fuel use and the struggle for life on Earth to survive. That will include creating a series of 20’x3’ translucent banners to suspend from groves of trees and branches trimmed and painted to be installed prone in the space. The one pictured in my studio is a 20’ long mulberry tree branch. Most of the new painted branches will be from the local English Plane trees culled at Earth Matter.
What unique opportunities or qualities does the studio space at the Arts Center offer? The most dramatic opportunity is to have the space to work for over a year rather than be constantly worried about needing to leave or move my studio. The cohort of fellow artists share my concerns, making a convivial environment and the LMCC staff creates a supportive frame to outreach our work.
How does having space at the Arts Center affect your work or process?
It means I have time and space to not only focus my studio production but to deeply contemplate each step towards the realization of my present project without distraction. It means visitors can see and discuss my work in progress with me in a very impressive and accessible venue. It means I can closely observe the local trees that inspire me for over a year.
Has the Arts Center or Governors Island itself inspired any aspects of your work? The groves of trees, the presence of Earth Matter; the complex history of the island: transforming a military base to a cultural base; the presence of so many other cultural centers and the view of the river from my studio are all profoundly, imaginatively moving. The steady stream of summer tourists has given me many ideas about designing space for human traffic as a discreetly informing experience.
Had you been to Governors Island before beginning your Arts Center residency? Once.
What projects are you working on at the Arts Center? I am working on multiple projects while on GI. My original proposal to LMCC was investigating how water holds the ultimate fantasy of escape; whether by luxury ship or logs cobbled together, water offers passage, transformation and renewal. In 2016, I had the privilege of being ferried from Manhattan to Governors Island for my first LMCC residency. The trip became a meditation on the water and sparked my quest for boat building, shipping lane navigation, and accessibility, not just for transportation but physical and spiritual transformation.
I became obsessed with the idea of building my own canoe. And living in Red Hook, I am only a few hundred meters from GI. My fantasy is to carve my own boat to paddle back and forth. But for now, I am making prototypes from paper along with numerous drawings and linoleum block carvings of the water.
Coincidentally I was invited by two separate curators, one in the US and one in Australia, to create an art piece dealing with water and conservation. The water piece, and specifically paper boats, is for an exhibition in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The fragility of the paper boats is significant for the island identity, noted for resourcefulness and respect for the water that defines its edges and boundaries, not unlike GI. The Australian work is more specific to the problems of plastics in the ocean. Both of these will be paperworks.
What unique opportunities or qualities does the studio space at the Arts Center offer? Number one is year-round access to GI and a completely quiet studio with beautiful views onto the harbor. I love the ferry ride. I could simply ride the ferry back and forth all day long. I ride the ferry from Red Hook to Wall Street, then the GI ferry. I love being on the water, and having this opportunity allows me to interact and experience NYC, my home, in a whole other dimension.
How does having space at the Arts Center affect your work or process? Having space at the Arts Center shows me a whole new way I can approach my work. I get hours of uninterrupted time. It is quiet. I can watch the weather change and the water churn all day long. The viewpoint from my desk lines up the windowsill to the water and it is as if I am on a ship. I feel like I am being rocked by the water’s currents. I am more relaxed and that allows me to be more thoughtful and delve into my work deeper.
Has the Arts Center or Governors Island itself inspired any aspects of your work? The renovation of the Arts Center is spectacular, the galleries are gorgeous. I simply love being on the Island. I love the forts, the history, and I love running around the Island. I am a person of repetition and I can run pretty long distances, so during my break I take in the whole island by running around it several times, just a methodic, repeating loop.
Had you been to Governors Island before beginning your Arts Center residency? I have been coming to GI since 2006, but only once or twice a summer. Then in 2016 I had my first LMCC residency. I worked there daily from March to June. It completely changed my artwork and opened up a whole new world. I made three significant friends as we were there daily together. It was one of my best opportunities. I feel tremendously lucky to be there now.
Governors Island welcomes visitors from spring through fall with a bounty of beautiful foliage. The abundant plant life across the Island’s historic district and rolling parkland provides a naturalistic escape from the city. This green oasis thrives thanks to the efforts of the Island’s Horticulture team, whose responsibilities continue all year long to maintain the Island’s plant life and, in the off-season, prepare it for the following year.
GI gardeners’ duties involve a variety of efforts that begin in November, like introducing thousands of new plants across the landscape. Flower beds receive new bulbs including tulips, daffodils, and ornamental alliums planted by hand that will bloom beautifully next season. At the Hills, gardeners use the technique of broadcasting seeds (scattering them over an area) rather than planting them individually to spread more plants over more terrain that can be difficult to traverse on foot. These plantings are timed based on the specific needs of the species in question; many seeds require a period of cold before germination can occur. For areas that are not being actively planted in November, gardeners spend this time planning future plantings to complete before the Island reopens.
The Horticulture team creates strategic plans for which
plants to use in which areas, with biodiversity, aesthetics and the health of
the ecosystem in mind. Many varieties are chosen for their ability to combat
unwanted invasive species, like the winter rye planted on the Hills. Winter rye
will germinate late this fall, and will already be established in April,
hopefully early enough to outcompete invasive mugwort, which tends to stifle
other plant life in its area. Similarly, Hammock Grove will receive white wood
aster, already found in the Island’s historic district, which thrives in shaded
areas and will claim the space under a thickening tree canopy, preventing weeds
from getting established, while producing delightful flowers. All new plants on
the Island are chosen with their abilities to stand up to the often-harsh
Harbor environment and to support the health of the ecosystem in mind, with
many species selected for their capacity to support animal life.
Established plants need plenty of attention this time of
year, too. Some are dug up, divided, and transplanted to other planting beds or
locations like the Island’s nursery for winter care before being planted out in
the spring. Fallen leaves are added to plant beds for nutrients and to help
prevent weed growth. Major housekeeping projects also begin in November, like
tool maintenance, planning and ordering supplies, and professional development
and continuing education for gardeners including staff exchanges with other
parks and public spaces in the New York area. Once the trees have lost their
last leaves, winter pruning will begin, contributing to their continued health
and growth for years to come.
From November to April, the Horticulture team’s hands are
full keeping the Island’s plants and landscapes healthy and ready to thrive
once spring comes around again. While most visitors to GI don’t witness this
work themselves, they enjoy its benefits during the Island’s public season. In the future,
visitors will be able to appreciate the fruits of the Horticulture team’s
labors every day of the year. Keeping Governors Island green is a year-round
job, after all.
Over 50 beautiful, historic buildings permeate the 92-acre Historic District that covers Governors Island’s northern half. In the Building Governors Island series, we’ll examine some of these notable structures, their individual histories and the roles they’ve played in the Island’s history as a whole, beginning with Nolan Park’s Building 9.
A few historic buildings stand out from the yellow wooden houses that dominate Nolan Park. Some grab more attention than others; it’s hard not to notice the cannon-flanked entrance to the Admiral’s House. Building 9, a cube of brick and stone sandwiched between two of the iconic houses, attracts fewer glances. While not always the center of attention, Building 9 embodies the last two centuries of Governors Island’s history better than most other buildings on the Island today.
Built in 1839 to serve as Governors Island’s military Post Hospital, Building 9 has seen a variety of uses and names through its 180-year history. It helped define the area of Nolan Park long before the yellow houses appeared and today stands as one of the oldest structures on the Island. Even while serving its original purpose of hospital and medical training center, Building 9 housed officers and prisoners as well, being referred to as the Block House for that purpose. Notably, a young Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant stayed in the Block House in 1852 while his unit was briefly stationed on the Island.
As the Island’s Post Hospital, the facility was often stretched to its limits. An influx of wounded Union soldiers and thousands of Confederate prisoners during the Civil War reinforced the need for a more robust hospital on GI. In 1862, a large wooden structure was added to the building, nearly doubling the hospital’s capacity. This expansion, which no longer exists today, elevated the facility to the rank of General Hospital, designating Governors Island as a destination for treatment and recovery.
The General Hospital wing came and went, and eventually a new structure was built to serve as Post Hospital for the Island. In 1874, the Army converted Building 9 to fill other roles including kitchen and mess hall, court chambers, chapel and even ballroom. Now, Building 9 serves as housing for Governors Island ferry crews who stay there when the Samuel Coursen (Governors Island's main ferry, in service since 1956) docks on the Island overnight.
The history of Building 9 echoes the history of the Island itself in some ways. It has served many purposes, gone by different names, and housed an impressive variety of occupants. While not the grandest building in Nolan Park, its humble exterior belies its rich history as one of the most storied structures on Governors Island.
Intimate and expansive at the same time, the atmosphere
inside Shantell Martin’s immersive installation,
The May Room, lends
itself particularly well to celebrations of the written and spoken word.
The May Room has hosted a variety of public poetry
reading events since opening in September, three of which were presented by the
Poetry Society of America showcasing poets from diverse backgrounds through
partner organizations including CantoMundo and Kundiman.
The last Poetry Society of America-produced event, Puerto
Rico en mi corazón,
celebrated the poetry collection of the same name
published this year in response to Hurricane Maria and the storm’s profound
effects on Puerto Rico and its people. Featuring works by 40 poets in both
Spanish and English,
Puerto Rico en mi corazón provides a human
perspective on the disaster while its proceeds benefit hurricane relief
For the event, Puerto Rican poets Raquel Salas Rivera and
Ricardo Alberto Maldonado, both co-editors of the eponymous collection,
performed live readings of works of theirs included in the book. See videos of
the readings below and on the
Poetry Society of America’s Youtube page.
Shantell Martin’s The May Room enlivens the interior
of Our Lady Star of the Sea, a deconsecrated former chapel, into a modern site
for reflection, contemplation and connection.
The May Room and its
lineup of programs like
Puerto Rico en mi corazón breathe new life into
the structure, making use of it for the first time in over 20 years.
The May Room will be open for special viewing hours
on Wednesday 10/30 and Thursday 10/31, 1-4pm both days, before the end of
Governors Island’s 2019 public access season.
The Trust for Governors Island has opened its annual call for proposals for free indoor exhibition space, open to artistic, cultural, environmental and educational organizations for the 2020 public season. Space inside over two dozen historic former officers’ homes will be offered to non-profit organizations proposing free public programs, including art and educational exhibitions, performances, workshops, screenings, talks and more.
“Each season, arts and cultural organizations from across New York bring Governors Island’s historic district to life with groundbreaking and experimental arts, environmental and educational programming for all ages,” said Clare Newman, President and CEO of the Trust for Governors Island. “Governors Island provides an unforgettable venue for cultural organizations and non-profits to present work in front of a highly engaged, diverse public audience.”
With a growing number of visitors of all ages from across New York, the United States and abroad, Governors Island offers an unprecedented opportunity for arts, environmental, cultural and educational organizations to reach the public in a singular setting. In 2019, 30 organizations presented exhibits, workshops, performances and talks, and hosted artists-in-residence in the historic houses of Nolan Park and Colonels Row, once home to military officers and their families during Governors Island’s nearly two-century history as a military base. These homes dating from the late nineteenth century provide multiple rooms of various sizes, often across two floors, that can be used for installations, exhibitions, artist studios, intimate performance venues or spaces for small workshops and educational programs.
“Governors Island has the rare combination of unparalleled historic space, rich ecology and an ever growing local, national and international audience at the center of our country’s largest metropolis,” said Meredith Johnson, VP of Arts and Culture at the Trust for Governors Island. “The cultural community is the heart of New York City, and we are thrilled to be able to share the Island’s unique resources with leading cultural organizations from across the city.”
Proposing organizations will present free public programming during the hours of 11am to 5pm on weekends during the public season (May 1–October 31, 2020). Organizations who apply are encouraged to propose programs that emphasize diverse public participation and engagement. Proposals will be evaluated based on the overall quality of the proposed program; fit and alignment with the Island’s dynamic arts, cultural and educational programming; track-record of conceptualizing, producing and organizing other programs and events; commitment to connecting with diverse audiences; and engagement with the Island as a site, including its history, ecology, architecture and relationship to the rest of New York City. The application and additional information on hosting indoor programs is available at govisland.org/permits.