2005: The first art on NYC's Governors Island

2005 was the first year that New York City arts organizations, including the Public Art Fund and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, began to host events and exhibitions on the island. On May 14, David and Sasha Koren went to the island to see Allison Smith’s one-day Muster exhibition, sponsored by the Public Art Fund. Over 100 artists camped on the island over a weekend, creating 50 campsite installations on the theme “What are you fighting for?” The public was invited to visit the encampment on Saturday, and over 1,500 people came to the island to see it. In The New York Times, the event was described as “Burning Man for lazy people.” David was immediately inspired by the island as a place for large-scale participatory art, and became convinced that the arts would be critical to the island’s development strategy, given the constraints placed on the island by the Federal deed.

David began to talk about the idea for the island as a place for the arts, starting with the network that he had built through his participation in the Burning Man art event in Nevada and the New York Burning Man community. He initially spoke with Leslie Bocskor (a participatory arts supporter, event creator, and connector) and then Amy Shapiro (the President of not-for-profit Circle Arts). Leslie brought David to meet with O. Alden James, Jr., the President of the National Arts Club on Gramercy Square, where Leslie was a member. Alden gave David and Leslie the idea that an arts festival on the island might be a good place to start to create momentum around the idea of arts on the island. Leslie also brought David to meet with Gerald Greenberg, who had submitted a proposal to the island under the RFEI to create “World Island” on Governors Island, an international destination devoted to peace and mutual understanding.

Thinking about the idea of an arts festival on the island, David started to look for a name, something that could anchor the concept of the festival. David was in the shower one morning in late 2005 when the name “FIGMENT” popped into his head. David remembered that Andy Warhol had once been asked what he would like on his tombstone, and he replied, “I always thought I’d like my own tombstone to be blank. No epitaph, and no name. Well, actually, I’d like it to say ‘figment’.” By naming the arts event FIGMENT, it could reference both the great history of art in New York, and also the ephemeral nature of the arts event that was starting to be developed.