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Agnes Denes' Living Pyramid was so popular, its

Agnes Denes' Living Pyramid was so popular, its stay at Socrates Sculpture Park was extended. (Credit: Socrates Sculpture Park)

outdoors

Secrets of Socrates Sculpture Park: The largest outdoor art museum in NYC

32 Vernon Boulevard, Long Island City, New York, 11106

Socrates Sculpture Park is perfect for the nature-loving art enthusiast who wants to enjoy the craft, while being a part of it, too. It’s also a nice stop for the beachgoer, jogger, dog walker or anyone who wants to take in a clear view of the Manhattan skyline.

The park is open year-round from 10 a.m. to sunset. Everything (including kayaking, movie screenings, access to NYC-born art and more) is completely free.

The park’s director of development Katie Denny Horowitz took amNewYork on a guided tour and filled us in on the area’s secrets for its 30th anniversary.

Before Socrates Sculpture Park was covered with grass,

Credit: Socrates Sculpture Park

Sunbathing? There’s concrete beneath you

Before Socrates Sculpture Park was covered with grass, flowers, trees and artwork, it was an entirely different scene. Dirt dumped in the area during the construction of East River subway tunnels turned two concrete piers into a patch of unused land. With construction booming in Long Island City in the 1980s, the land ended up being used as a dumping area and landfill, Horowitz said. People left construction debris, old cars and industrial parts on the land, she said.

The park has since done extensive testing on the soil to find out if it's safe to grow plants and crops. The verdict: It is.

"You can even eat the things grown here, but it's hard to plant because you can dig and run into the concrete left below," she added.

At first glance, you'll see large letters scattered

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

Look closer – the boulders that line the park are grave markers

At first glance, you'll see large letters scattered throughout the park's stone fencing. Look a bit closer and you'll start to realize some of them spell words and names.

"The letters are a part of our ethos, which is about reuse and reclamation," Horowitz said. That's why it makes sense that the letters were recycled from old grave markers. The barrier was constructed with the park's opening in 1986, but no one on staff knows which graveyard the stones originated from.

An average of 156,000 visitors have strolled through

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

You're often part of the art

An average of 156,000 visitors have strolled through the park annually in the past 30 years, according to Socrates Sculpture Park. What many of those people probably didn't know was that they became part of the art the second they stepped foot in the park.

Many of the sculptors incorporate human movement in their pieces. Take Meg Webster's Concave Room for Bees, for example. The circular planter, made of more than 400 cubic yards of soil, has an opening for visitors to walk inside. The open space combined with plants, bees, flowers and humans completes the artwork. Webster's piece will be on display until the end of August.

Those chairs you'll sit on are artwork, too. Open Seating by Jonathan Odom, pictured, thrives off of human interaction. The chairs themselves, made of painted plywood, become artwork based on where they end up in the park -- a lone chair under a tree or a pair by the water.

High tide keeps it covered with water for

Credit: Socrates Sculpture Park

A hidden beach is a part of the park often missed

High tide keeps it covered with water for more than seven hours of the day, so it's no wonder some visitors may never even realize the sandy shoreline is a part of the park. The entrance to the Socrates Sculpture Park Beach at Hallets Cove is located north of the park's orange gates along Vernon Boulevard.

Partnered with Astoria Boaters and LIC Community Boathouse, the park offers free kayaking and canoeing off the shore in July and August.

The sculptures stick around for two-to-three months

Credit: Socrates Sculpture Park

Exhibits change seasonally, but sometimes favorites stay

The sculptures stick around for two-to-three months before making way for new pieces. The exception to that rule: Agnes Denes' Living Pyramid.

The 30-foot wide, 30-foot deep pyramid filled with potting soil and planted grasses was so popular among visitors that its stay in the park was extended by two months, Horowitz said. The summer piece stood tall in the park through the end of October.

The current exhibit Landmark, a celebration of the park's 30th anniversary, will be on display until the end of August.

Not only can you go see sculptures on

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

Work on display was created there

Not only can you go see sculptures on display at the park, but you can watch future ones being made, too. "All of the work ... here is created here," Horowitz said.

The artist's corner, across from the main Broadway entrance, features work benches, trailers and tents. On a typical afternoon, you can see two or three artists working on their masterpieces while you go for a stroll.

Eighteen years of free films have been screened

Credit: Socrates Sculpture Park

It’s home to one of the longest running outdoor film festivals

Eighteen years of free films have been screened on the grass at Socrates Sculpture Park as part of Outdoor Cinema, a collaboration with Film Forum and Rooftop Films. Outdoor Cinema is one of the longest running film festivals of its kind in New York City, the event's Film Forum programmer Mike Maggiore said.

You won't find the year's top movies on the lineup, though. What makes the festival unique is its selection of films from around the globe. The view of the Manhattan skyline behind the screen doesn't hurt either.

A piece of the area's past can still

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

Remnants of the area's past life remain

A piece of the area's past can still be spotted from inside the park. Wooden debris from a minor shipwreck is still piled up along the rock-lined shore, Horowitz said.

There's even a hidden seating area in the northwest corner of the park that offers a perfect view. Down by the water, tucked behind large bushes, you can spot the shipwreck.

Bonus: That red barn-like building in the background of the photo above is actually the studio of the park's founder, sculptor Mark di Suvero.

Correction: An earlier version of this piece stated that more than 156,000 visitors have strolled through the park in the past 30 years. The correct statistic is that an average of 156,000 people visit the park annually.

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