Wise Up & Head to Socrates Sculpture Park This Season

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The Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens has long been a spot for cultural, natural and social enrichment for New Yorkers big and small. (Thirty years, to be exact.) But for the public park’s 30th anniversary, the institution is celebrating with a special, summer-long series of eight artist commissions, as well as tons of free, family-friendly programming both new and returning.

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photo: Rich W. via Yelp

From the Ground Up
Once an industrial landfill and illegal dumping ground, Socrates Sculpture Park is now NYC’s preeminent sculpture park, as well as acting as a space for community engagement with culture and nature. To mark the three-decade milestone, the park is presenting the multi-work LANDMARK, with artist creations that physically and symbolically mark the land, while also reflecting on the park’s history and envisioning its future.

LANDMARK_Meg Webster

photo: Concave Room for Bees, Socrates Sculpture Park

The star of the show is the newly-commissioned earthwork, Concave Room for Bees, the title of which is not all that theoretical. A 70-foot-wide, circular earth bowl made from more than 400 cubic yards of fertile soil reaching six feet high, the work is planted with flowers, herbs and shrubs that attract pollinating creatures. Visitors can walk among the plantings, which of course will grow and evolve over the coming months; when the exhibition ends, the soil used to make the piece will be dispersed across the landscape, adding much-needed nutrient-rich topsoil to the park.

Other works in LANDMARK include Fugue in B♭, which consists of a colony of honey bees transplanted into the shell of a salvaged piano; as the bees go about doing their bee thing, they inadvertently create “music” by interacting with the piano strings. (A speaker is placed outside the closed-off area of the piece to help viewers hear the “symphony.”) Half Moon by Abilgail DeVille utilizes reclaimed materials to envision the wreckage of Henry Hudson’s ship of the same name, and recalls the Native American tribe that met the vessel, while Casey Tang’s Urban Forest Lab is a self-sustaining forest garden that will be planted with perennial vegetables. The collective ARTPORT_ will present an anthology of videos dedicated to the subject of climate change in a reclaimed shipping container, and greeting visitors will be Hank Willis Thomas’ From Cain’t See in the Mornin’ Til Cain’t See at Night (from Strange Fruit) a billboard from the park’s Broadway Billboard series.

Young fans of diggers will enjoy Cary Leibowitz’s Honk if U Love Socrates Sculpture Park, a Bobcat loader construction vehicle decorated with bumper stickers by park visitors, and anyone who wants to take a seta and rest will appreciate Open Seating, a series of open design chairs created by Jonathan Odom and painted by volunteers, staff and youth participant’s in the park’s extensive education programs.

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Mark the Calendar!
As if checking out all this art on a gorgeous day wasn’t enough of a reason to visit, Socrates Sculpture Park will be hosting awesome kid- and family-friendly events all summer long! Check out our favorites here!

LIC Bike Parade
Sat., June 11

The annual LIC Bike Parade is a visual spectacle of decorated bicycles, human-powered floats made from recycled materials, and hand-painted parade banners. To help prepare for the occasion, Recycle-A-Bicycle will offer free mobile bike repair and a Kids Bike Swap; Bike New York will provide a Learn-to-Ride for kids class in nearby Rainey Park; Socrates artists will lead bike decorating workshops; and Free Style Arts Association will lead a collaborative large-scale sculpture project to create a human-powered parade float.

The parade will leave the main gate of Socrates at 2pm, travel southbound along Vernon Boulevard, and will culminate at a celebration in Queensbridge Park, where participants will commemorate the park’s 30th anniversary and the 100th birthday of urban renewal activist Jane Jacobs.

Jazz at Socrates
Thursdays; June 2, July 7, August 4
6:30 – 8 p.m.

For the first time, Socrates and The Jazz Foundation have teamed up to present a dynamic debut series of jazz in the park, featuring an eclectic range of live music by Queens-based musicians. The monthly series will culminate on August 4, Louis Armstrong’s 115th birthday. To mark the occasion, Queens-based Louis Armstrong House Museum will join in for a special tribute to the jazz legend. Following each concert, students from LaGuardia Community College will host “Tours of the Sky” with an on-site telescope.

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photo: Socrates Sculpture Park

Summer Solstice Celebration
Tues., June 21

Another annual tradition at the park, this year’s Summer Solstice Celebration will feature vibrant afro-Brazilian drumming by Batala NYC, a performance and capoeira demonstrations for kids and adults by Capoeira Nago, and an eclectic selection of delicious Brazilian BBQ. Socrates teaching artists will lead art-making workshops to create musical instruments and cosmos-themed sculptures out of recycled materials, and students from LaGuardia Community College will offer “tours of the sky”. Other activities include face painting by Agostino Arts, a special Solstice ritual performed by Urban Shaman Mama Donna, and a sunset paddle offered by the LIC Community Boathouse.

Festival of Kites and Kayaks
Sat., July 9

Using recycled materials, children and their families draw inspiration from the park’s fantastic view of the Manhattan skyline to build expressive kites, and then fly them in the park. Teaching artists from Socrates and The Noguchi Museum will lead workshops for participants of all ages to produce and personalize handmade kites that explore ideas of flying, freedom, and community. Bring your cameras and sketchpads, too, because this year’s Festival of Kites will coincide with Manhattan Kayak Circumnavigation, as hundreds of kayaks paddling up the East River add a colorful backdrop to this already vibrant event.

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photo: Meline V. via Yelp

Hip to Hip Theatre Company presents Shakespeare in the Park
Now in its 10th season, Hip to Hip returns to the park to present a tragedy one week and a comedy the next, performed in repertory by a professional troupe of actors. Audience members are encouraged to bring chairs, a blanket and have a picnic which taking in some Bard. 

Kids & The Classics — a children’s interactive workshop — is offered prior to each performance. Designed for children ages 4 to 14, this program offers children a chance to interact with the actors and theatrical text by previewing characters and situations, and by making comparisons to contemporary life through theater games. The children’s program is a 45-minute workshop that begins one hour before each performance.

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photo: Socrates Sculpture Park

Saturday Sculpture Workshops
Saturdays; May 7 – September 24, Noon- 3 p.m.

These free workshops are tailored for kids and their families on a drop-in basis and typically integrate the themes and ideas of special events happening in the park. Head to the park’s education area, where children can work with a different artist each week, exploring innovative art mediums and a variety of subject matter. Click here to see the season’s full schedule.

Guerrilla Storytime
Saturdays; July & August,  2 – 4 p.m.

Meet at the park’s Mini Library to join Urban Librarians Unite for Guerrilla Storytime. These fun, pop-up readings with local librarians offer families open-air storytelling and sing-a-longs for children. Drop in any time to share your love of reading, as your favorite library programs move outside to the park. For more information, visit: urbanlibrariansunite.org.

Hop On the (Free!) Bus!
FYI, if the family is up for taking in all the many cultural institutions that Long Island city has to offer, you can catch a free ride with the LIC Art Bus. The bus, which stops at the entrances of Socrates Sculpture Park, The Noguchi Museum, SculptureCenter, and MoMA PS1, runs on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, from May 7 – September 11, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at approximately 45 minute intervals. Passengers are seated on a first come, first served basis. Each museum is open until 6 p.m., Socrates Sculpture Park closes at sunset.

Socrates Sculpture Park
32-01 Vernon Blvd.
Long Island city
Queens
718-956-1819
Online: socratessculpturepark.org

Have you visited Socrates Sculpture Park with the family? Chime in with a comment below! 

— Mimi O’Connor