One Man’s Trash is a New York Artist’s Inspiration

From Landfill to Green Space, Socrates Sculpture Park Offers Large-Scale Artwork and Free Summer Pro


Socrates Sculpture Park, located in Long Island City, offers unique forms of art and scenic views of the Manhattan skyline. (Joe Marvilli/The Observer)

Published: May 5, 2010

It may seem like an ordinary park at first glance (or at least it did to me on the particular day I visited), but take a closer look and you will discover that the Socrates Sculpture Park, located in Long Island City, Queens, is actually the home of some very innovative artwork. Perhaps because of its history as an illegal dumpsite, several New York-based sculptors have taken what was once junk and turned it into art. Now the former riverside landfill is a place for people, young and old, to come together and enjoy the view of Manhattan’s skyline, the sculptures or any number of outdoor activities, which are open to the public and free of charge.

“Now it is really a green space with art in it and it’s the only one of this size and scope, that I know of, in New York City,” said Mark di Suvero, sculptor and the park’s Board of Directors President. In 1986, under di Suvero’s leadership, a coalition of artists and unemployed workers came together to build a park for recreational use as well as an outdoor museum to be utilized by both artists and the public. Its stated mission is to encourage interaction between artists and the public in order to improve the urban environment. It is both the art and the environment that add to the whole experience of being there.

Works of art include Kon Rubkovich’s “Freefall is Free For All,” which is basically a crushed car surrounded by a chain-link fence and Zack Davis’ “The Monumental Dump,” which consists of foam, concrete and steel. While I am no artist, I can understand the purpose of turning something that may seem useless into something for people to enjoy. It seems that if people can enjoy something that was once a dump, they can also enjoy something that would have gone into that dump if it were not for the artist’s hard work and ingenuity. Both the artwork in the park and the park itself are inspiring stories of turning what was once considered nothing into something.

The park also offers free workshops that help both kids and adults develop their creative skills. The most recent event, Kite Flight, which took place on April 25, invited children of all ages to make kites out of recycled materials. Additional workshops for kids involve bringing different artists to the park every week to teach art-making techniques, like creating a soccer ball out of papier-mâché. Programs for adults include survival skills for sustainable city living, such as making soap, small container gardening and cooking with fire, a tutorial for summer barbequing. Promoting cultural and community diversity is also an important goal of the park founders, as Wednesdays in July and August 2010 will highlight a different country each week with culturally specific programming that includes food, dancing and an outdoor film screening. Though there are no upcoming films listed as of yet, the choices will surely be worth seeing, espcially in a drive-in-like setting.

While it may be a longer, more expensive commute (due to Metrocard fare) for Fordham College at Lincoln Center students who live so close to Central Park, Socrates Sculpture Park is worth the trip. For anyone who wants to visit a unique modern art museum, with no admission fee, this Long Island City green space is a great place to spend the day, especially considering New York’s recent flirtation with warm, sunny weather.

Socrates Scuplture Park
Directions:  Take the 1 train to 42nd Street and transfer to the N or W. Take Astoria-Ditmars Blvd. Station and get off at Broadway station. Walk east to Vernon Blvd.
Hours: 10 a.m. until sunset
Price: Free
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