Governors Island: Art, Food, Glamping and More

Art Scene

Governors Island: Art, Food, Glamping and More

Governors Island may be New York City’s most accessible destination for art, culture, nature, food and adventure, all in one place. For a quick getaway under $10 (subway fare and a $3 round trip ferry ride), visitors can island-hop from Manhattan’s southernmost tip to Governors Island in under 30 minutes.

Photo by Diana McClure

An eclectic mix of historical architecture, open grasslands, eco-conscious art projects, outdoor food vendors, bicycling and walking offer a unique experience of past, present and future humanity amidst the timelessness of nature. As visitors pull out of the ferry terminal in downtown Manhattan, they encounter their first piece of contemporary art, AT THE SAME MOMENT, a text-based installation by Lawrence Weiner. The phrase is written on the fender rack of the Governors Island Ferry Slip at the Battery Maritime Building. The work aptly expresses the sensation of being in two worlds at once; amidst the monolithic skyscrapers of New York and the tranquility of Governors Island, due to the proximity of the two locations.

Photo by Diana McClure

As travelers disembark several paths unfold in front of them. The visitor’s center offers maps and history for those looking for a structured and informed experience, however, a pick-your-own adventure option is equally possible for those with a wanderlust sensibility. The island has had a series of purposes ranging from fishing grounds for the Lenape Tribe, who called it Pagganuck (“Nut Island”); use by early Dutch settlers; and, eventually as a military hub. In 1911, the island was expanded with land fill from the construction of the Lexington Avenue subway line. Governors Island opened to the public in 2014.

Photo by Diana McClure

A study in architectural contrasts can be had on a walk around the island. In the area of Nolan Park and the Historic District, fifteen yellow homes under a canopy of trees feel like a walk through a small New England town. The homes were built between 1845 and 1902 as military family housing, and are now used to house non-profit and art-related projects. Close by, a 2018 commissioned art installation by Jacob Hashimoto, The Eclipse, is installed in the St. Cornelius Chapel, which was built in 1846 and updated in 1906. The Eclipse features 15,000 delicate rice paper kites in black and white that swoon across the ceiling of the chapel in a cohesive and evocative asymmetrical flow. Stained glass windows in pale shades provide natural light, adding to the overwhelming beauty of the pairing. The artwork was first presented at the Palazzo Flangini during the 57thVenice Biennale in 2017.

Photo by Diana McClure

A more familiar, brick military barracks atmosphere can be found in other sections of the island, and most surprisingly, at a site directly across from the Statue of Liberty, visitors will find an overnight camping facility. The retreat is probably best described as a glamping option—luxury camping. With yurts to one side, a vast lawn in the center, and more upscale tent options to the other side, cocktails under the stars and morning coffee are also on the menu. Further high-end leisure activities appear to be coming as well, with a spa scheduled to open on the island in 2019.

Governors Island is open to the public from May 1st to October 31st.