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What to do on Governors Island this summer

It's not just about cycling around the island. There's a full schedule of free art and educational events throughout the season.

Governors Island opens Wednesday for the 2019 season.

Governors Island opens Wednesday for the 2019 season. Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

The opening of Governors Island is a sure sign of warmer, fun-filled days of cycling, picnicking and kayaking, but this year's programming offers so much more.

To prepare, the 172-acre island, west of Brooklyn's waterfront, has a new 400-passenger ferry to get you there. With an increase in the frequency of trips between Lower Manhattan and Soissons Landing on weekends, service will be every 20 minutes.

So, as you make your summer plans, here's what you'll need to know about what's going on on Governors Island:

Island cuisine

Threes Brewing is launching a location that will serve a special Governors Island beer called Public Property, with 10 percent of its proceeds going toward the island. Neapolitan Express is introducing the island's first pizza joint; Makina Cafe offers Ethiopian and Eritrean food; Perros Y Vainas is serving hot dogs and other Venezuelan treats; and snacks can be found at Joe Coffee, Melt Bakery and People's Pops.

Fauzia's Heavenly Delights, Little Eva's Beer Garden Grill, Island Oyster, and Taco Vista are returning.

Special events

First Annual Opening Weekend ShinDIG (May 4) — Help the Friends of Governors Island prepare the park for the summer and, after lending a hand, you can spend the day on the island, taking advantage of perks and discounts and stay for a closing party with free treats, prizes, music, games and more. Free, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Rite of Summer Festival (June 1, July 6, Aug. 10 & Sept. 7) —The Rite of Summer Festival returns with free outdoor concerts starting in June with Ensemble Connect, Sandbox Percussion, Go: Organic Orchestra, Brooklyn Raga Massive, Sirius Quartet and more. The shows will be presented twice  each day. 

Jazz Age Lawn Party (June 15-16 & Aug. 24-25) — The Prohibition era-inspired dance party returns with live 1920s music, fashion, games, and merchants. 

Make Music New York Presents: Porch Stomp (June 23) — This folk festival takes place on the porches of the homes in Nolan Park. Roam from porch to porch to see any one of 100 small, acoustic concerts, jams and workshops from bluegrass, old-time, blues, roots  to Americana bands. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The New York City Poetry Festival (July 27-28) — Two-time poetry laureate Robert Pinksy and more than 250 others will perform their poetry on the lawns of Governors Island.

Japan Performing Arts Festival (Aug. 31) — Experience Bon Odori dances from across Japan in one venue, and learn and take part in the dances yourself.

The Vendy Awards (Sept. 21) — Sample food from NYC vendors who have been nominated in various categories and help choose who wins. It's a fundraiser for the Street Vendor Project, which stands up for vendors' rights and provides legal and small business services.

Recurring events

Arts: 

Colonels Row
Saturdays and Sundays (May 4 - Aug. 4) 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.:

Open Studio Weekends with 4heads Artists in Residency — check out new work by artists on the island as they create it.

Art Force 5 — Create your own superhero action figure and customized cape in this comic book exhibit about the history of the genre. Visitors can also paint a tile that will be used to create a mural celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance.

Escaping Time: Art from U.S. Prisons —  Learn about the humanity and creativity behind bars with this exhibit by current and former prison inmates.

New Art Dealers Alliance — Across 34 rooms in three historic homes, 45 artists will display their works that speak to the island's changing identity.

Rare Air — Explore the role the green screen has on territory and the vastness of space within New York.

Saturdays and Sundays (Aug. 31 - Sept. 29) 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Portal: Governors Island — This free, down-to-earth independent art fair includes more than 80 solo exhibits through the historic buildings and green spaces of Colonels Row.

Saturdays and Sundays (Aug. 31 - Oct. 27) 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Exquisite Corpse Company — This immersive experience tells four stories within one historic home to question what makes a home and how water connects us.

HoloCenter — Trick your mind at "Holographic Embodiment," an exhibit of art holograms and holographic media.

Linked Dance Theatre — This part-ticketed, part-free art installation and immersive show explores the story of a woman's experience with Alzheimer's. You can discover her mind in your own time or celebrate her 65th birthday as one of her friends or family members in the immersive show. 

Education:

Official Governors Island Walking Tours: Wednesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 10:30 a.m., 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. at Soissons Landing.

Nolan Park
Saturdays and Sundays (June 1 - Oct. 27) 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.:

American Indian Community House — Learn about the history of Native Americans in New York City through a new visual project by the Native American Youth Council, sit in on a tale from a Native storyteller and enjoy Native American musical and theatrical performances and presentations by artisans.

Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts — Explore the histories and futures of the African diaspora and art through the work of creators, artists and industry leaders.

NYC Audubon — Borrow binoculars and see the island's birds for yourself with the help of the NYC Audubon in bird walks and nature-themed workshops.

Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Compost Learning Center — Learn about how Governors Island composts more than 60,000 pounds of food scraps each month and see its healing space inside the Lavender Field. 

Recreation

Free kayaking (June 15 - Sept. 14) — Head to Pier 101 to rent a kayak or take a free kayak session with Downtown Boathouse from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Biking — Bring your own bike or rent one from Blazing Saddles.  Rentals are free on weekday mornings for an hour. This season, there will also be pedal cars, scooters, balance bikes. Citi Bikes can also be rented at Soissons Landing, Yankee Pier and Picnic Point.

Adventures at Governors Island (open daily) — For thrill-seekers, Adventures offers amusements like a zip line, a climbing challenge, a maze and a mini-golf course. Tickets required.

Collective Governors Island (through Sept. 27) — Camp glamorously on Governors Island. The six-acre retreat called Collective Governors Island is back, with private tours of the harbor, field days with island scavenger hunts, lawn games (kite flying, croquet, dance classes), crafts and DIY workshops in macramé, tonic elixir making, hat-making, plus yoga and meditation classes, and more. The public can take advantage of the collective's programming for $25  a day for field day access from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Dates opened: May 1 - Oct. 31

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays. It will be open until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.

Where to catch the ferry: The Battery Maritime Building in Lower Manhattan and Pier 6 in Brooklyn.

Ferry tickets are $3 round trip (cash only). IDNYC holders ride for free.

Ferries that launch at 10, 11 and 11:30 a.m. from Manhattan and at 11 and 11:30 a.m. from Brooklyn on Saturdays and Sundays are free for everyone.

And for the opening week, May 1-5, the ferry rides are free for all visitors.

Beginning Memorial Day weekend, the city's NYC Ferry service will stop at Governor's Island Yankee Pier from Wall Street/Pier 11.

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