Roosevelt Island’s residents are working hard to change the narrative that the 2-mile isle is just a sleepy community to one that is rich with culture.
On Wednesday, officials unveiled a new steel plinth and sculpture on what will be its “art trail” — a new project aimed at making Roosevelt Island an “art island.”
The 6-foot-tall carbon-steel column, inspired by the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square, was built by Sultz Fabrication to withstand 1 ton of weight and feature sculptures from local and international artists on a revolving biennial schedule, according to the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC), a state agency that oversees the island.
For now, a piece by Long Island City artist Michael Poast, “Saecula Saeculorum,” which means “Without End” in Latin, rests on the column. Over time, it will transform from its light color to a deep maroon, according to Poast.
“This was several years in the making… this marks a new era, a threshold, for Roosevelt Island, the island of art,” said Jim Pignetti, a metal shop owner who collaborated on the plinth project. “This plinth will stimulate, challenge and entertain our community with changing sculptures for years to come and Roosevelt Island will become enriched and draw visitors from afar. It does that now, but the art trail will bring scores through the tram plaza… to maybe just maybe spend a sheckel or two.”
The island has been undergoing a lot of change with the opening of the Cornell Tech campus at its southern tip last summer, but having an official trail, becoming the “island of art” as they put it, will help put the island on the map, rather than it being overlooked as a destination for New Yorkers and tourists alike. Doing so will bring more people to the island and with them the possibility of more money being spent there, which is “desperately needed,” according to Susan Rosenthal, RIOC’s CEO and president.
“There are so many vacant spaces,” Councilman Ben Kallos said at the unveiling. “Hopefully we can turn those spaces into art spaces, as well. This is just the beginning.”
The island already has its share of public art with six sculptures and a few galleries, including the stunning white marble columns at the FDR Four Freedoms Park, the climbable “Blue Dragon,” Cornell Tech’s WPA murals on its campus, Gallery RIVAA, Motorgate Gallery murals inside the parking garage, among others — all of which will be included on the art trail, officials say.
The plinth unveiling is the latest work of art to join the island’s collection, but it’s only after years of hard work that they’ve gotten to this point. The Roosevelt Island Visual Arts Association, Gallery RIVAA, RIOC and others started planning for it in 2012 in hopes of bringing more sculptures to Good Shepherd Plaza and landed on the idea of bringing a permanent structure to show off artwork in 2015.
Tad Sudol, the president of the Roosevelt Island Visual Arts Association, said they’re already having discussions with other galleries and artists, including the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, for possible future works to be shown on the plinth.
“This island is one of the best places for it to be because it’s a unique location, there are wonderful views, the Four Freedoms Park, new sculptures and the new campus,” Sodol said in a statement. “It is momentum. We have that now. This is the moment when we can make the existing pieces triple.”