In 1986, artist Mark di Suvero found an abandoned landfill alongside the East River that was being used as an illegal dumpsite. Seeing the potential in this five-acre patch of land for something much more, he formed a coalition of community activists and artists and transformed the site into an outdoor gallery and artist studio.
From the beginning, di Suvero sought to promote a cultural connection between the park and the greater community. The park was named after the ancient classical philosopher Socrates as a nod to the large Greek community in nearby Astoria. The park’s logo is a graphic representation of a steel I-beam. This also connects the park to the neighborhood’s history as an industrial center of Queens. Often utilizing steel beams in his own work, di Suvero felt that the image of the I-beam is reminiscent of the Chinese character for ‘’work,’’ ‘’project,’’ or ‘labor.’’
Since its founding, Socrates Sculpture Park has presented thousands of artists from around the world. The art on display spans a multitude of different styles and themes. As a rotating exhibit, the majority of the sculptures on display are there temporarily. Every few months, new sculptures are erected replacing previous ones. Each new season of art is celebrated with an opening night party.
In addition to being an art gallery, Socrates Sculpture Park is utilized as a green space by locals. Many people gather there to enjoy the view of the famous Manhattan skyline. On any given day you’ll see joggers and dog walkers making use of the grounds, families having picnics, and children playing.
Socrates Sculpture Park is also host to many outdoor performances such as plays, concerts, dance parties, and film screenings. Community members gather at Socrates Sculpture Park regularly for a weekly farmers market, yoga and meditation sessions, dance classes, and cultural festivals. The Long Island City Boathouse uses the adjacent Hallet’s Cove to provide free kayaking to the public.
From its humble origin as an eyesore along a neglected area of the city, Socrates Sculpture Park has evolved to one of New York’s hidden gems. By promoting artistic expression alongside respect to the needs of the community, Socrates Sculpture Park has become a shining example of how land reclamation can lead to innovative ways to revitalize urban areas.
Know Before You Go
Socrates Sculpture Park is open 365 days a year from 9 a.m. to sundown. All exhibitions, performances, and events are free to the public.
If you are an artist who would like to have their work considered for exhibition you can apply for The Socrates Annual fellowship program. An open call for applications is announced every fall season. For more details check the official website for updates.
There is no on-site parking lot. You may be able to find outdoor parking around the neighborhood. If you're using public transportation, take the N or W train to the Broadway station and walk eight blocks west on Broadway to the intersection of Vernon Boulevard. By bus take the Q103 or Q104 to Broadway and Vernon Boulevard or the Q69 or Q100X to Broadway and 21st Street. The NYC Ferry extends to Astoria Landing which is a five-minute walk north of Socrates Sculpture Park.