New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg established his credentials as an art aficionado early in his administration when, soon after his 2002 election, he threw the full weight of the city’s support behind “The Gates,” by the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
With the city suffering from an economic downturn and the aftermath of terrorist attacks, the idea of lining Central Park with miles of ecstatically saffron-colored gates might have seemed beside the point. But it boosted tourism, and perhaps lifted the spirits of the uncertain city.
Six years later, as New York once again faces uncertain economic times, the city has debuted another major public art project, the New York City Waterfalls.
Olafur Eliasson, the Danish-Icelandic artist, has built four waterfalls – 90 to 120 feet tall – in the East River, along the waterfronts of Brooklyn and Manhattan. The pieces are temporary installations and will be taken down in October.
“They are the remnants of a primordial Eden, beautiful, uncanny signs of a natural nonurban past that the city never had,” wrote the New York Times’ art critic.
The city estimates – conservatively, according to a city spokesman – that the waterfalls will generate $55m in economic activity for local businesses and government.
There was a quantifiable impact from “Gates,” which brought the city and its businesses an estimated $254m in visitor revenues and taxes. The city expects the waterfalls to draw at least a quarter million viewers,.
Some local companies have already felt that boost. Travis Noyes, vice president of New York Water Taxi Tour, said it had 45,000 pre-booked reservations, mostly from international groups, for boat tours of the waterfalls. The company also added weekday evening tours to accommodate local interest.
Though the project has drawn some criticism from the public due to the high cost of $15m, it was paid for almost entirely by private and corporate donations.
On top of the $15m, many of the project’s advisors donated their labor, including its construction manager, Tishman Construction Corporation. Bloomberg LP, the media company founded by Mr Bloomberg before he became mayor, is one of the other major donors.
Those involved with the project say its success hinged on combining the logistical support of city government and the financial support of donors. Approval was required from New York City and State, owners of the proposed sites, in addition to compulsory permits from 30 government agencies.
Susan Freedman, president of the Public Art Fund, a non-profit organisation that supports New York City arts, said: “It was a wildly ambitious project, and I think we knew that if there was ever a time to take on something of this scale, now was the time to do it.”
Ronald Daitz, a partner at New York law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges, who volunteered as the Public Art Fund’s counsel for the project, said the nature of the project added some unusual challenges. One of the waterfalls is on Governor’s Island east of Manhattan and formerly used as a military base, and the project needed to hire an expert to screen the area for buried artillery. “I don’t think anybody realized how complicated it would be,” Mr Daitz said.
Christo worked for more than two decades to put up “Gates,” Ms Freedman said, because he initially conceived of the project when Central Park’s directors were focused on restoring the park after years of neglect. In contrast, the waterfalls reflect their zeitgeist by using renewable energy and promoting the natural environment.