Dutch Art on a Rediscovered Island
This is the last weekend to experience the new island festival. It’s taking place on Governor’s Island, which is located smack in the middle of the New York harbor. The festival is part of the celebration called NY400, which commemorates the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage from Amsterdam to New York harbor.
Not long after Hudson’s historic voyage, in 1624, the first settlers from Holland landed right here, on what was then known as Noten Eylant, the “Island of Nuts” (it was officially renamed Governors Island in 1784).
Now, 400 years later, Dutch settlers have arrived once again…this time as a group of over 150 artists direct from Holland. They’ve temporarily settled here to create the New Island Festival, a multimedia extravaganza that includes visual arts, edgy theater productions, dance performances, DJ sets, and Dutch food and drink.
Some friends and I went Friday to check out the festivities. With the gorgeous weather New York has been enjoying in the last few days, it was the perfect opportunity to check out the island that has been virtually inaccessible to New Yorkers for more than two centuries. It was under the control of the military all that time, so few residents ever had the chance to visit its historic architecture, waterfront promenade, wide open lawns and tree lined streets.
Then, in January 2003, a deal was struck with the federal government returning the island to the city of New York for the unbeatable price of $1. It was a great deal for New Yorkers, who are just beginning to rediscover the island that was in their backyard all this time. The whole place is slated to become New York’s next “Central Park”…a park in the middle of the harbor with sweeping views of the Statue of Liberty and the towering skylines of lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Jersey City.
After the five minute ferry ride, we landed on Governors Island and immediately noticed a quiet change of pace from busy Manhattan that made the place seem like the island that time forgot.
So close to the bustling streets of the financial district, this peaceful place feels like a world away. It’s like being in an old fashioned New England town of quaint buildings and quiet streets lined with towering oaks and elms.
For the New Island Festival, the Dutch artists have transformed a town square into a European-style outdoor festival of tents, artist pavilions, and bars. There’s a picnic table the length of a football field where dutch servers walk along the middle dishing out hearty food. The scene is like a beer garden where performers, artists, and visitors mingle cheerfully.
In the center of the festival, there’s a round tent called the Silent Disco. The DJ is playing music but you can’t hear it unless you put on headphones! The scene is funny to watch, as people are dancing their hearts out while you, the outside observer, hear no music at all.
One of our favorite experiences was visiting “The Dig”. It’s actually a faux archeological site, where you walk among the remains of a buried island settlement. A complete history has been created, with old photographs, descriptions of what the “archeologists” found, and a large field containing the tops of buildings poking out of the ground. The artists made it look like the remains of a real village whose last residents abandoned the place in the 1950s. There’s even an old gas station with a jukebox and yellowed photos on the walls.
The whole experience was surreal, because they even gave us hard hats and a construction vest to complete the simulation of visiting the site of a dig.
After an amazing day and evening on Governors Island, we boarded the ferry to return to Manhattan and “reality”. As we crossed the water, I couldn’t help but wonder what the future will hold for Governors Island…I just hope that whatever development takes place there will preserve the island’s feeling of tranquility and timelessness.
The Festival is open to the public on Thursdays from 4:00 PM – 11:00 PM and Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays from 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM. All events are in English, subtitled, or non-verbal. – Will Bradford