devised and often built throughout the summer within Socrates’ open-air studio. Now in its 14th year, the Emerging Artist Fellowship program awards $5,000 stipends to 15 applicants to pursue the most ambitious projects of their career, backed by a wealth of tools, experienced staff, incomparable outdoor space within New York City limits, and the substantial industrial machinery required to put it all into place. In an open field next to the park, a crane maneuvered colossal steel beams near a soaring sculpture. “That’s [di Suvero’s] team, they’re working away,” said Fisk. The now-81-year-old founder walks with two canes but still cycles across the park, between his own studios, assiduously managing his projects. “Mark’s a whimsical guy. Day-to-day he can change something they’ve been working on for two months and drop it for two years and start something new.” But, he continued, “They do help us out quite a bit, too.” Until 1986, post-industrial decay had made the abandoned lot at the corner of Broadway and Vernon Boulevard a magnet for garbage and crime. Dead cars and wild dogs attracted muggings and dangerous activity. Two of the nation’s largest public housing complexes were located nearby: the Queensbridge Houses to the south (legendary rapper Nas’ stomping grounds) and the Astoria houses to the north. Constructed on the idealistic notion that healthy communities could form separately from traditional urban development, the hulking structures left thousands of residents simply separate, hardened to the city around them. Meanwhile, Mark di Suvero had established art studios on two plots abutting the illegal dumpsite. In the 1960s, di Suvero had been a founding member of one of the first experimental art spaces in SoHo, which was a burgeoning Mecca for artists at the time. Park Place Gallery exhibited boundary-pushing work in all mediums, including the minimal-
ist drawings of Sol LeWitt and the stripped-down undulations of Steve Reich. The environment was cooperative and open, in direct defiance of the prohibitive gallery system farther uptown. The spirit of community and collaboration at Park Place Gallery struck a chord with di Suvero, who saw its potential outside the art-making world. “Art is a process for self-expression but it’s also a bridge,” di Suvero explained. “To see art made with your own eyes is a form of sharing and generosity—one of possibility, not limits.” di Suvero imagined that if art could take over a dumping ground in Queens, the seemingly impossible, through creative endeavor, would be proven possible. The transformative power of art could affect an entire community, every day, in “a park where the form of sculpture would work upon the human spirit” and produce wonder—what Socrates called the beginning of wisdom. di Suvero knew that if the project were to be a success, his neighbors would have to do some of the work. “I wanted to employ young people from the community who had nothing to do. In the midst of this dangerous environment, I wanted Socrates Sculpture Park to magnetically attract people to the idea of a productive, positive and peaceful place.” In September, 1985, di Suvero, a coalition of fellow artists, and local youth began the work of transforming the abandoned site into Socrates Sculpture Park, funded completely by artists. In the early 90s, Socrates signed a lease with New York City Parks that allowed the nonprofit to maintain and program the space as it saw fit. Today, a board of directors, including many artists, oversees Socrates fiduciary responsibility—di Suvero is its Chairman. di Suvero’s vision for the future of the park is the same as it was at its birth: to act as an agent for community building and peace, “a
The Current State of Mind: For this issue, we explore and celebrate the most up-to-date viewpoints in New York City fashion and culture.