A Fall for Arts Festival for Roosevelt Island this year grew increasingly unlikely as prior years’ planning and calls for artists’ dates went by without notice. On RIOC’s outdated website, one page suggests “September 24th, TBC.” But we assume that TBC means “To Be Confirmed,” and it hasn’t been.
by David Stone
Community-based public art events are popular across the U.S. and Europe. Think about block parties with an artistic bent or painting murals on buildings. They matter because they bring people together and often create a sense of community pride.
Roosevelt Island has had its Fall for Arts Festival for 17 years. It’s one of the events that helped define it as a destination, differentiating us from Manhattan with its own culture and style. It filled Island parks with teams painting themed murals on the first autumn weekend.
But now, it seems, the Fall for Arts Festival is in jeopardy.
After RIOC President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes fired the Community Relations staff in full within the last year, there are no signs of any development, and other annual events have shrunk.
Erica Spencer-EL, who spearheaded Fall for Arts for over a decade, was fired the day after a whistleblower complaint criticizing Haynes in the strongest language was released. Others in her department, Jessica Cerone and Amy Smith, followed.
Suspicions rose about retaliation firings. Firings and abrupt departures of staff prompted enough lawsuits under Haynes that the insurance company protecting RIOC from damages refused to renew the policy at any price.
The Fall for Arts Festival requires significant planning. Calls for artists go out in September with a theme and inventory of promised supplies.
Why No Fall for Arts Festival in 2022?
If there is no event this year, the likely cause will be that, after a number of unexplained dismissals of senior and key employees, not enough talent, energy or commitment is left.
This year, so far, Haynes’s staff put together a relatively lifeless Roosevelt Island Day, absent the petting zoos, bounce houses and community concerts of previous years. National Night Out was so lightly attended that RIOC did not include crowd photos on its Facebook Page. Crowd photos are hard when there isn’t any to record.
But with a Fall for Arts cancelation – really something more like a lapse – Haynes would score a new high in lows for the bunkered state agency.
RIOC has only the slightest interaction with the community and has not answered media inquiries in over a year. So, we cannot report on their position. We’ll update you, though, when and if anything happens with Fall for Arts 2022.