As recently as 1986, the Socrates Sculpture Park was a landfill and illegal dumpsite in Astoria, Queens. Now it's a stunning 4-acre park that is dedicated to showing public art. It's an exhibit space where artists can exhibit experimental, controversial, or simply beautiful pieces. It's open 365 days a year from 9 a.m. to sundown, and it's free for anyone who wants to visit. The fact that it's on the water makes the park even more special. You can browse the pieces will getting a beautiful view and breeze.
In recent years the park has also become known for its programming. It hosts fitness and meditation classes, art workshops, festivals, lectures, outdoor movies, and more. You can even boat in the park with the kayaks and canoes available.
In 1986 a group of artists, community activists, and young people turned an abandoned landfill and illegal dumpsite into a park where artists could display their work. American sculptor Mark di Suvero was one of the leading artists fighting for the project. While the park has been open since the mid-'80s, it didn't have full park status until 1998 when the city turned it into a permanent city institution. That happened so developers couldn't build luxury apartments on the site. Now the park is the largest outdoor space in New York City dedicated to sculpture.
The park is located at 32-01 Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City. The main entrance is at the corner of Vernon Boulevard and Broadway. There is another gate at the north end of the park on Vernon Boulevard. If you want to get to the beach in the park, you can only get there by Vernon Boulevard.
It's easy to reach the park by public transportation. You can take the N or W train to Broadway Station in Queens and then walk eight blocks towards the East River. If it's a pretty day consider taking the NYC Ferry to Astoria Landing and then walking five blocks to the park.
When to Visit
The park is open every day of the year from 9 a.m. to sundown, but because the sculptures are outside (and it is a park) plan your visit for when the weather is going to be nice. Many of the programs also take place during the Summer. If you do want to visit in Winter bundle up. Also note that there are no public restrooms at the park from December to March.
What to See
The park has no permanent structures or exhibits. The art is rotating, giving more artists the chance to display their work.
One of the highlights of the park are the billboards that greet visitors at the main entrance. Since 1999, new billboards have been installed once or twice a year to welcome visitors with different themes and images. The park puts out a call for work, and anyone, professional or amateur designer, is allowed to submit a proposal. In the past billboards have addressed issues from democratic freedoms to diversity.
Every year, the park holds an architecture and design competition, and the winning projects are displayed in the park. These are large exhibits that visitors can interact with when they visit. One of the upcoming winners is entitled "Objects in the Mirror are Closer Than They Appear." It's a mirrored cube kiosk with sliding doors that reflects the park around it.
The park also has exhibits that are based on a theme. For example there is a current exhibit that explores earth's place in space. Numerous artists have contributed to it, and their work is inspired by atomic physics, amateur astronomy, ancient perspectives, and more. To see the exhibits that will be on during your visit check the park's website.
What to Do There
This park is known for its programming, and there are always classes, lectures, tours, and other activities you can do or attend during your visit. All of them are free and open to the public.
In recent years the park has focused on healthy living. You can attend free yoga and meditation classes in the park (If you're coming in the summer don't miss sunset meditation); buy fresh food grown locally in a farmers market; or come to the park to compost your own waste. During weekends from May to September, you can kayak and canoe in the river.
The park also hosts a variety of artistic performances. There are nights where you can listen to world-class jazz while stargazing. On other nights you can see performances by the Metropolitan Opera or modern dance troops. On Wednesdays in July and August the park hosts outdoor movies.
The park also holds free educational classes. Every Saturday from May to September there is sculpture class that the entire family can attend. For teens there is a summer science class where participants get to fish, row, and conduct experiments in the river.