Koch Brings New Art Forms to NYC By Jacqueline Pezzillo, Assoc. AIA, LE

Event: Leslie Koch in Conversation with David Haskell
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.24.11
Speakers: Leslie Koch — President, Trust for Governors Island; David Haskell — Features Editor, New York
Organizer: Center for Architecture
Sponsor: Kramer Levin

Governors Island.

Courtesy Trust for Governors Island

Under the leadership of Leslie Koch, a 2011 Heritage Ball Honoree and recipient of the Center for Architecture Foundation Award, Governor’s Island has changed from a sleepy former military base into a thriving art incubator that attracts nearly half a million people annually. Koch, President of the Trust for Governors Island, attributed the Island’s success to the ability to experimental nature. Without a budget or curatorial staff, Koch initially found it difficult to lure established art institutions as exhibitors on Governors Island. “Orphan organizations” were the first transplants to the island.

The haven spirit of the island continues to welcome various creative events and exhibitions through a permit process and collaborative programming with Koch and her team. “Programming is at the heart of what we do,” said Koch, who compares Governors Island to a summer vacation place. “We have a sense of democracy… the island belongs to everybody. Programs that embrace that spirit of shared privilege work the best.”

Perhaps the most successful endeavor of Koch has been to bridge the psychological gap that surrounds Governors Island. While only 800 yards from Lower Manhattan, and even closer to Brooklyn, many New Yorkers and visitors struggle to associate the destination with the life of the city. By cultivating a place, ironically without introducing any new architecture, Koch created a cultural magnet for visitors. Her ability to watch and learn how people utilize space and then adapt to those lessons has led to many successful developments on the island, including free bicycles, hammocks, and moveable furniture.

Five years after Koch assumed her position the public eagerly waits for Governors Island’s annual open season and its events, which have included sculpture installations by Mark di Suvero, open artist-in-residence studios by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and the annual FIGMENT arts festival (including the FIGMENT/ENYA/SEAoNY City of Dreams Pavilion Competition for the last two years).