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Community Connect: Socrates Sculpture Park

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March 7, 2018 Elana Ehrenberg

If you’ve ever ridden our NYC Ferry to Astoria, chances are you’ve seen Socrates Sculpture Park. This waterfront sculpture park has been a haven for emerging artists to not only to publicly present but also work on site to create new works of art, for many years. We sat down with Katie Denny Horowitz, Director of External Affairs, and Jess Wilcox, Director of Exhibitions, to learn the history of the park and some future projects to keep an eye out for in 2018.

Katie Denny Horowitz and Jess Wilcox stroll the park during the Socrates Annual, which runs through March 25th. Photo by Franny Civitano.

Socrates Sculpture Park started as an abandoned lot and illegal dumpsite on the waterfront next door to artist Mark di Suvero’s studio. Di Suvero was an advocate for water access specifically for artists, many of whom were flocking to LIC and Astoria during this time, inspired by the amount of space, unique mixed-use landscape, and materials so readily available to this neighborhood. Under di Suvero’s leadership in 1986, a coalition of community members and artists took ownership of the lot and transformed it into an outdoor museum for large-scale sculptures.

While the focus has shifted over the years from major artists and iconic pieces to emerging artists and access to space to create pieces on site, Socrates has not slowed down over time and has shown over 1,000 artists to date. Wilcox describes Socrates’ 2017 Spring exhibition show with Nari Ward as a “very rewarding experience working with the artist but in terms of feedback, the response from the public was very rewarding as well.” G.O.A.T. Again was the first solo exhibition show that Socrates put on display so it was exciting to see park-goers make the visual connections between the pieces versus a group show which can sometimes have many different artists working in various mediums and themes.

Socrates Sculpture Park staff with Nari Ward’s Scapegoat, 2017, Image courtesy the artist, Socrates Sculpture Park, Lehmann Maupin New York & Hong Kong, and Galleria Continua San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins / Habana.

Socrates Sculpture Park has become a staple in the LIC/Astoria community and Denny Horowitz credits that to the fact that the “community was engaged with the creation of the park.” The neighborhood is unique in the sense that there isn’t a dedication to a single-use. Like other waterfront neighborhoods, things are changing rapidly and Socrates is trying to keep pace. The influx of people has pushed Socrates to be creative and responsive when it comes to maintenance and new programming. Some hear “Sculpture Park”, and expect a bucolic experience, but that’s not Socrates’ aesthetic. This industrial-urban park is scrappy and sometimes the subject matter is uncomfortable, but other times it’s playful and interactive. “We don’t have that ‘Don’t Touch The Art’ approach,” says Denny Horowitz, making the park accessible to families with young children.

Nari Ward, Apollo/Poll, 2017, Image courtesy the artist, Socrates Sculpture Park, Lehmann Maupin New York & Hong Kong, and Galleria Continua San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins / Habana.

Socrates Sculpture Park’s annual Outdoor Cinema Festival, Image courtesy SocratesSculpture Park.

Continuation and cultivation are important at Socrates, where Wilcox believes it’s critical to give young artists a voice and space to curate. Different artist perspectives reflect the diverse communities the park serves. Wilcox looks forward to expanding what public art and public sculpture look like, whether that be sound pieces, performance, or a new medium that might be challenging on a logistical level for smaller institutions.

Social programming has been in high demand – in the warmer months, Socrates offers yoga classes, kayaking, and an Outdoor Cinema series continuing on its 20th year. With the closest subway station about a mile away and closing this summer for renovations, alternative modes of transportation like NYC Ferry will be critical to Socrates Sculpture Park this upcoming season. “It comes at a special time,” Denny Horowitz says with a smile.

A student participant in Socrates Sculpture Park’s Sculpture Studio arts education program, 2016, Image courtesy Socrates Sculpture Park.

Socrates Sculpture Park is a quick seven-minute walk from the Astoria stop on the Astoria NYC Ferry route. Don’t miss the Socrates Annual, which features 15 emerging artists’ work. The show was recently extended and will run until March 25th, 2018.

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