Governors Island Taps New Head Curator

The Trust for Governors Island announced on Tuesday that it has appointed Lauren Haynes as the new head curator and vice president of arts and culture for the 172-acre island, situated in New York Harbor with ringside views of the Statue of Liberty, Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn waterfront.

“We have big ambitions for the arts program here, which is to be New York’s pre-eminent public art destination,” said Clare Newman, the president and chief executive of the Trust, a nonprofit organization created by the city to develop and operate the island as a recreational and cultural resource.

“Lauren is very good at bringing emerging voices and underrepresented artists to the forefront and shares our ideas about growing the public art program significantly,” said Newman, who tapped Haynes, most recently the director of curatorial affairs and programs at the Queens Museum.

Originally used by the Lenape for hunting and fishing, the island became an Army base in the early 19th century, then was used by the Coast Guard in the late 20th century and opened to the public in 2005. Now ferries run regularly from Lower Manhattan year-round and directly from Brooklyn in warmer months, with 931,000 trips to the island last year, according to the Trust.

“We have fantastic examples of public art throughout the city, but what makes Governors Island unique is really our location and the fact that it’s an experience to get here,” Haynes said. The idea of disconnecting from the city, while still visible, and reconnecting to nature on the island, she continued, “feels like where the opportunity is.”

Haynes, 42, will build on a half dozen permanent and long-term public artworks by Rachel Whiteread, Mark Handforth, Sam Van Aken, Mark Dion, Sheila Berger and Shantell Martin that are positioned around the island and previously stewarded by Meredith Johnson, the first head curator at the Trust. Early this summer, Jenny Kendler is creating “Other of Pearl,” an immersive installation evoking marine ecosystems in the subterranean spaces of Fort Jay, on the northern part of the island.

Haynes, who was born in Tennessee and raised in New York, said that she did not grow up going to museums and hopes in her new role to be “able to use public art to make connections for audiences who maybe feel like ‘art’s not for me.’” The curator will also oversee the island’s Organizations in Residence initiative, which each year offers free space in its historic homes to more than two dozen nonprofits from the five boroughs to host public cultural programs.

After studying art history at Oberlin College in Ohio, Haynes spent the first decade of her career at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Rising through the curatorial ranks, she championed artists including Stanley Whitney and Ebony G. Patterson before museums more broadly were committing to the work of Black artists.

Haynes then led the contemporary art program for five years at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. Starting in 2021, she spent a year at the Nasher Museum of Art in Durham, N.C., where she was a co-organizer of “Lyle Ashton Harris: Our first and last love.” Haynes is bringing the exhibition to the Queens Museum, where it opens in May.

At the Studio Museum, “you didn’t have to prove to anyone that artists of color deserve to be in museums and have exhibitions, it was a given,” Haynes said. “I want to continue that here, where I can have the most impact and where I can help tell those stories, to bring artists in and bring people from all five boroughs.”

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