Governors Island: The Exchange (aerial view), show­ing the icon­ic forms designed to evoke the dra­mat­ic land­scapes and hills of the island with the skyscrapers that define Manhattan’s skyline in the background. | © SOM | Miysis via Governors Island


GOVERNORS ISLAND offers a quick escape from the city streets to a park-like environment with picturesque views and must-see public art. Now the popular public art program has a new leader. The Trust for Governors Island and Governors Island Arts named Lauren Haynes head curator and vice president for arts and culture. Haynes was previously director of curatorial affairs and programs at the Queens Museum. Her Governors Island appointment was announced on Tuesday. Haynes officially started this month.

Located in New York Harbor, Governors Island was formerly utilized by the U.S. military and opened to the public in 2005. Accessible by ferry from Manhattan and Brooklyn, the 172-acre destination offers views of the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn waterfront, and Lower Manhattan.

The Governors Island arts program aims to provide transformative experiences for visitors. Artists are commissioned to create temporary and long-term public artworks that engage with the history, landscapes, and architecture of the island. Works by Rachel Whiteread, Sam Van Akan, and Sheila Berger are currently on view. Previous commissions were recently produced by Charles Gaines, Jacob Hashimoto, and Shantell Martin. There is also an organization-in-residence program, free public programs and events, and collaborations with an array of cultural organizations.

Haynes is only the second person to take on the head curator role since it was introduced in 2016. She is expected to expand the public art program on Governors Island.

“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 Trust’s president and CEO told the New York Times. “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.”

HAYNES BRINGS NEARLY TWO DECADES of experience to her new position. In 2022, Haynes joined the Queens Museum where she was responsible for all exhibition programming and oversaw the curatorial, public practice, and community engagement teams. She is co-curator of “Lyle Ashton Harris: Our first and last love,” which opens in May. The 35-year survey of Harris’s photography-based practice was previously on view at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University where Haynes was the Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Senior Curator of Contemporary, from 2021 to 2022.

During her five-year tenure (2016-2021) at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., Haynes was director of artist initiatives and curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges and The Momentary, the museum’s satellite contemporary art space in downtown Bentonville. She led the curatorial team that organized “State of the Art 2020,” an expansive exhibition showcasing an intergenerational slate of 61 artists from throughout the nation. Other major projects included coordinating the first U.S. presentation of “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” (2018), the landmark international traveling exhibition, and co-curating “The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art” (2018).

Early in her career, Haynes spent a decade at the Studio Museum in Harlem (2006-16), a foundational experience during which she ultimately became an associate curator. She organized exhibitions dedicated to Alma Thomas, Stanley Whitney, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Spiral, and art inspired by Ebony and Jet magazines; led the museum’s famed artist-in-residence program; and oversaw its renowned permanent collection.

Haynes earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Oberlin College and has been serving on the Committee for the Preservation of the White House since last year.

“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.”
— Clare Newman, President and CEO, Trust for Governors Island

THE TRUST FOR GOVERNORS ISLAND is a nonprofit created by the city of New York to operate and redevelop Governors Island. The island has a storied history that dates back 500 years when the Lenape utilized the land for hunting and fishing. The Dutch came and went and then the British took control and named it Governors Island in 1699. After the American Revolution, the state of New York inherited the island and transferred it to the U.S. government for military use in 1800. The U.S. Army occupied the land until 1966 when it was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard. In 1995, the military vacated the island to cut costs. In subsequent years, the island was granted various local and federal protections for preservation and monument status. Today, the National Park Service continues to manage aspects of the property, which was eventually returned to the city of New York in 2003. The Trust was created in 2010.

Governors Island Arts is the public arts and culture program presented by the Trust. Shantell Martin is among the contemporary artists who have installed work on the island, which retains dozens of buildings and structures including military fortifications and residential housing that reflect its mixed-use past for various entities. In 2022, Martin brought new life to the interior and exterior of the Our Lady Star of the Sea chapel with her signature line drawings.

“The American Manifest: Moving Chains” (2022-23) by Charles Gaines was installed along the shoreline. The monumental 110-foot long sculpture made of steel and sus­tain­ably har­vest­ed Sapele (known as African Mahogany) evoked the hull of a ship. Nine heavy chains stretched across the top of the work, their movements representing the currents of the harbor and nearby waterways. Gaines was inspired by the Dred Scott decision. With “Moving Chains,” he wanted to bring attention the region’s troubled history with Native Americans, the transatlantic slave trade, and capitalism.

“There needed to be this tie made between our idea of the American economy and the illogical and structural patterns that built it. I wanted the piece to address that specifically, to address the idea that in order to produce this kind of economy, they had to legitimate slavery,” Gaines explained in the video below.

THE ISLAND’S ARTS PROGRAMMING is supported by a variety of public funding, including the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, and grants from the Ford Foundation, Mellon Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and several other foundations.

Haynes’s appointment announcement included welcoming and congratulatory remarks from Mayor Eric Adams and a bevy of other local and state officials who praised Haynes curatorial experience and expressed confidence in the leadership and vision they expect she will bring to the Governors Island arts program.

“I am thrilled to join the team at The Trust for Governors Island and Governors Island Arts at this key moment in the organization’s trajectory,” Haynes said in a statement. “I look forward to developing programming and working with artists to create projects and exhibitions for New Yorkers and everyone who visits our city.” CT


IMAGE: Above left, Lauren Haynes. | Photo by Derrick Beasley


Artist Charles Gaines introduces the concept for “Moving Chains,” his monumental sculptural installation on Governors Island (Oct. 15, 2022-October 2023). The commission was part of The American Manifest, a multi-part public art exhibition exploring the American origin story. The project was presented by Creative Time, Governors Island Arts, and Times Square Arts. | Video by Creative Time


The catalog “Alma Thomas” was published to accompany the exhibition organized by the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the Studio Museum in Harlem, for which Lauren Haynes served as co-editor and co-curator. Haynes edited the exhibition catalog “Speaking of People: Ebony, Jet and Contemporary Art” and contributed to “Stanley Whitney: Dance the Orange,” “Trenton Doyle Hancock: Mind of the Mound: Critical Mass,” “Jordan Casteel: Within Reach,” and the recently published volume “Hughie Lee-Smith.” Also consider “Lyle Ashton Harris: Today I Shall Judge Nothing That Occurs: Selections from the Ektachrome Archive,” “Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974-1989,” and “Charles Gaines: Palm Trees and Other Works.”


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