The Trust for Governors Island's Art CommisionsGI Program

Governors Island Corporation, d.b.a. The Trust for Governors Island (The Trust)

Funding Received: 2013
New York, NY
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
May 23, 2014

By Ellen Cavanagh

After a long winter, Governors Island will open to the public May 24, 2014. For the first time ever, the Island will be open seven days a week from Memorial Day weekend through the end of September, tripling public access from 40 to 120 days. In our expanded season, visitors will enjoy our extraordinary new public art installations from Mark Handforth and Susan Philipsz set in 30 acres of new landscape. Along with the installations by Handforth and Philipsz, the new park will feature groves of trees, hammocks, ball fields, play areas, bike paths, and expansive views of the Harbor and Statue of Liberty.

With infrastructure work on the Island’s historic buildings concluded and 30 acres of new park and landscapes completed, the Trust is now able to offer more indoor and outdoor space than ever before for arts and recreational programming. Through OpenHouseGI, the Trust is offering, for free, approximately 125,000 square feet of indoor arts programming space in former officers’ quarters and over 20 acres of outdoor cultural and recreational programming space. OpenHouseGI is the only program in New York City to offer this volume of adjacent indoor and outdoor space to artists and not-for-profits for free.

In late April, Trust President, Leslie Koch, made a special stop on a trip down south to visit fellow ArtPlace grantee Paradise Garden, home of Howard Finster’s visionary art environment in Summerville, Georgia. Leslie was captivated by the gardens and art and fascinated by what she learned from Paradise Garden staff. Leslie encourages everyone to visit Paradise Garden when in the in the vicinity of Summerville. (Paradise Garden is an hour outside of Chattanooga, TN and approximately 90 minutes from Atlanta. See attached picture of Leslie speaking with Paradise Garden staff and learning more about this very interesting and beautiful place.)

One of our biggest challenges is also what makes Governors Island so unique. It is an uninhabited island and former military base that is now a seasonal destination for cultural programming and family recreation. Prior to 2006, Governors Island was not on any real or psychological maps, was not a place New Yorkers visited, and was not a part of New York City’s cultural and recreational landscape. The Trust has overcome this challenge through a dedicated outreach program of innovative cultural and recreational programming. Last year, we offered more than 200 tours of the Island to our partners in New York City and New York State government, to administrative and philanthropic leaders in New York City’s cultural and recreational community and to the public. Through its innovative cultural and recreational programming, the Trust attracts hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers of all ages from all five boroughs. In 2013, the Island welcomed nearly 400,000 New Yorkers with only a 40-day public access season. Once off limits to the public, the Trust for Governors Island has become an active participant in New York City’s cultural and recreational community and the Island has become a lively and loved place for art and play.

Recent Wins
On April 25, New York Times arts writer Carol Vogel featured the public art program on Governors Island. Vogel interviewed Tom Eccles, the Trust’s consulting curator, for the article and wrote about each of the three participating artists’ work—Mark Handforth’s “Painted Phone” installation, of which the article had an image; Susan Philipsz’s sound installation “Day is Done,” and Rachel Whiteread’s untitled cabin in the woods.

The Trust recently hosted leaders from the art world on the Island for an art garden party to toast artists Mark Handforth and Susan Philipsz and celebrate the unveiling of their work. Guests enjoyed strolling through the new 30 acres of park, meeting and speaking with the artists while enjoying Handforth’s “Sidewalk Island,” an exhibition of four installations: “Painted Phone,” “Yankee Hanger,” “Saffron Star,” and “Weeping Hydrant” and Philipsz’s sound installation, “Day is Done.” It was a wonderful gathering of current and past supporters, prospective funders, members of the public sector, and leaders from the cultural and recreational communities.

When Governors Island first opened to the public, the Trust offered the Island’s indoor and outdoor spaces to artists and nonprofits for free in order to attract a broad array of cultural and recreational organizations to host programming on the Island. Offering our spaces for free is now an essential element of the Island’s zeitgeist. This open approach has provided the City’s cultural communities—from emerging to established—a much needed platform for experimentation as well as a chance for all artists to reach new audiences and for all New Yorkers to enjoy the arts.

Freed from institutional constraints and commercial expectations, artists on Governors Island are able to express themselves directly to the audience. Emerging artists discover that exhibiting alongside more established cultural and artistic organizations introduces them to a new audience, while the established organizations find their creativity renewed by the freedom to experiment and the exposure to new ideas. New Yorkers visiting the Island to ride a bike, fly a kite, or have a picnic encounter art presented outside formal institutional surroundings and find new passions. By offering the Island’s spaces for free to arts, cultural, and recreational organizations, The Trust creates a welcoming, accessible, and serendipitous experience.