Alonza Robertson
The Plinth: What's going on here? What's going up is a better question.
The Plinth: What's going on here? What's going up is a better question.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

For over ten years, RIOC and RIVAA, the Roosevelt Island artists collective, have worked to make Arline Jacoby's vision for an "Island of Art" materialize. The initiative is now nearing maturity. RIOC Public Information Officer, Alonza Robertson explains.

ROOSEVELT ISLAND – (May 30, 2018) In its not too distant past, Roosevelt Island was known as the place for the unfortunate and impaired. In its not too distant future, a group of dedicated culture activists - in partnership with the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) – intend for this place to be an Island of Art.

Helping curate, market and or publicize existing mixed-media art, music and poetry programs, public paintings, sculptures, galleries, and the FDR Four Freedoms Park, the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association (RIVAA), with RIOC’s financial and logistical help, is creating a two-mile-long “art trail” from the north to the south of the 157-acre Island for both residents and visitors to enjoy.

The newest stop along that trail – the Good Shepherd Plaza Sculpture Plinth – will be unveiled Wednesday, June 6 at 11:30 a.m. at 543 Main Street near the center of Roosevelt Island’s main town plaza.

Based on the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square, the Island Plinth is part of Streetscape Project that began in 2010 to renovate the plaza and its surrounding areas. Several community engagement sessions were led by RIOC to gather input from active community stakeholders. Those discussions help refine the project’s vision and included plans for a steel pedestal, or plinth, that would showcase sculptures from local artists on a revolving biennial schedule.

The plinth is a six-foot-tall carbon-steel column that can secure large sculptures up to one ton. It was built by Sultz Fabrication, a New York City boutique fabrication firm and foundry, at a cost of $24,700. The artist to be displayed is Long Island City artist Michael Poast; and his latest welded steel sculpture Saecula Saeculorum (Latin meaning "Without End") (among other public art sculptures he’s created across New York, New Jersey, Texas and Ohio) will be the first on display atop the column.

“We want to bring many outdoor sculptures to Roosevelt Island,” says Susan Rosenthal, CEO and President of RIOC which maintains the Island’s public art spaces, Public Safety Department, parks, facilities, roads and transportation, including the iconic red Tram, for its residents and hundreds of thousands of annual visitors.

In fact, there are now six outdoor public art sculptures, three art galleries, a major Fall for Arts Festival and a permanent exhibition of WPA art murals at Cornell Tech, the Island’s new graduate technology school campus.

“With these art locations added to our existing restored historical landmarks – which include the Blackwell House, the Smallpox Hospital, the Octagon dome, Good Shepherd Chapel, the Lighthouse and the Strecker Laboratory – we are livening the community, attracting visitors and possibly catching the attention of the larger arts community,” she said.

“It is momentum,” adds RIVAA president Tad Sudol, about the upcoming plinth unveiling and other recent developments. “We have that now. This is the moment when we can make the existing pieces triple,” he said.

Other stops on the Island of Art include:

Photos courtesy of Tad Sudol, RIVAA; and Cornell Tech

To RSVP or to receive more information about the plinth unveiling ceremony, or other Island of Art related items, contact Alonza Robertson, alonza.robertson@rioc.ny.gov, or call 212. 832.4540.

Editor's note: an earlier version of this article misidentified Michael Poast's upcoming sculpture.