Conley Steps Down After Long Reign; O’Brien In
Community Board 2 members voted in a new leader after long-time Chairperson Joseph Conley announced his retirement during its meeting last Thursday night, Dec. 4 at Sunnyside Community Services.
Conley, who served as chairperson for the better part of 23 years, was met with a standing ovation from his colleaguesx after making his announcement.
“It’s been a great honor and privilege to be the voice of Community Board 2,” Conley stated.
The board was split as to whether to hold elections for the new chair that evening. Long Island City board member Sheila Lewandowski was part of a group of members that felt the election should be postponed. She argued in favor of giving members time to consider putting themselves on the ballot.
Lewandowski felt that it would be “responsible and thoughtful to wait” before electing new leadership. She and board members calling for a postponed election, however, were slightly outnumbered by those who wished to hold the vote that evening.
Community Board 2 Secretary Lisa Deller presented the ballot nominating Patrick O’Brien for chairperson, with Stephen Cooper retaining his title as first vice chair. Deller would take over O’Brien’s vacated seat as second vice chair, with Denise Keehan- Smith rising to secretary. Diane Ballek would also retain her position as Board 2 treasurer.
The small majority voted to hold the elections that evening and elected O’Brien as Conley’s successor. Conley will officially hand over the reins to O’Brien in April 2015.
Public art controversy
Earlier in the evening, the board hosted a presentation from the Percent for Art Program regarding a controversial proposed art installation slated for the Jackson Avenue streetscape in Long Island City. A large-scale, reclining sculpture titled “The Sunbather” by Bedford-Stuyvesant sculptor Ohad Meromi will be installed on Jackson Avenue at 43rd Avenue.
An artist selection panel at the Percent for Art Program chose Meromi’s work. The Percent for Art Program was created in 1983 under the umbrella of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs. According to the 1982 “Percent for Art Law” (Local Law 65), one percent of the city’s construction budget must be allocated to public art.
According to Percent for Art Director Sarah Reisman, the program has helped complete 318 public art installations since its inception, with 75 projects currently underway.
Meromi himself took to the Board 2 podium to address community concerns over his art. He spoke to the crowd against a backdrop bearing slide projections of his proposed work. According to the renderings, Meromi’s eight foot tall “Sunbather” would depict a bright pink, non-gender specific nude at rest on the grassy median amid the hustle and bustle of Jackson Avenue.
“It represents a worker reclining from work,” he explained.
Meromi explained that he was inspired by ancient Greek sculpture, as well “The Allegory of Time” by 18th Century Czech sculptor Matthias Bernard Braun. Like many examples of classical sculpture, Meromi’s “Sunbather” will be cast in bronze. However, Meromi’s work will be covered in coats of bright pink automobile paint. This aspect drew the most criticism and concern from board members and the community at large.
Many in the crowd, however, were offended by the bold pink color. Long Island City board member Moitri Chowdhury Savard called the bright pink statue “inflammatory” and felt it could be “too much for residents.”
Savard also voiced concerns over the size of the installation, as well as the fact that Meromi is not a local, neighborhood artist.
When asked about his color choice, Meromi explained that the pink paint would eventually fade and “get better” over time, revealing the bronze of the form beneath. He told residents that he deliberately chose the hot pink hue in an effort to “brighten up” the industrial Jackson Avenue streetscape.
Savard also raised the question of the massive cost of the installation. According to Percent for Art Director Sarah Reisman, the installation would cost nearly $500,000. Twenty percent of this cost would go toward the artist’s salary, with sixty percent funding the fabrication and installation of the piece.
The remaining 20 percent would go toward general project costs and contingency.
Yet, many board members voiced outrage over the lack of community involvement in the art selection process. Reisman and her colleagues addressed the Board 2 Land Use Committee on this topic at their November meeting. This is, however, the first presentation involving the entire community board and residents.
Long Island City board member Kenneth Greenberg said that he felt a “disconnect” between the artist selection panel and the actual community. Greenberg explained that it would have been nice to have the public’s involvement when considering such a large-scale, permanent neighborhood installation.
Conley echoed Greenberg’s concerns. He called for greater dialogue between the Percent for Art Program and the community. He also questioned how “The Sunbather” reflected the Long Island City community, if at all. According to Reisman, the Jackson Avenue median will definitely receive a public art installation.
Yet, Reisman assured constituents that they are still in the preliminary planning stages, and that there is still time to weigh in on exactly what the installation itself will be.
Citi Bike expansion
Albert Silvestri of the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) was on hand to announce that the Citi Bike Program would be expanding into Long Island City in 2015. The Queens bike stations were originally part Citi Bike’s initial launch, but were halted due to damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Board members expressed concerns over station locations, specifically the bike station slated for Vernon Boulevard. Conley told Silvestri that the Board 2 Transportation Committee voted in favor of a station on Vernon Boulevard at 51st Street.
However, Conley expressed concern that the DOT plans to install a station closer to the busy 50th Street pedestrian mall. This plaza hosts many activities, including composting on Mondays. He feared the bike station might impose on the mall’s ongoing activities.
“How do we get it back to 51st Street?” Conley asked Silvestri.
Silvestri suggested that residents use the “Suggest a Station” portal on the Citi Bike website to provide feedback for future bike station locations. One resident spoke in favor of a station on 47th Avenue near LaGuardia Community College, while another hoped the station would be in closer proximity to the East River Ferry terminal.
Conley also voiced concerns over the existing bike corral on Jackson Avenue near P.S. 1 Museum. The DOT representative promised to look at and evaluate the site, adding that the agency would try not to utilize an overcrowded sidewalk space.
According to Silvestri, the Citi Bike system will double in size by the end of 2017. As part of this expansion, the DOT promised “increased staff and operating resources,” as well as “better bicycle rebalancing, cleaning and maintenance.” With the presentation also came news of an increased annual membership cost from $95 to $149.
The next Community Board 2 meeting is scheduled to take place on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015, at 7 p.m. at Sunnyside Community Services, located at 43-31 39th St. For more information, call Board 2’s Woodside office at 1-718-533- 8773.