Roosevelt Island’s Amazing, Shrinking Community Events

Roosevelt Island’s Amazing, Shrinking Community Events

Community events bind people together by sharing values and everyday life experiences. Shrinking or ending them, especially those bound in tradition, makes little sense, but that’s exactly what RIOC under Shelton J. Haynes is doing.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

On a sunny September afternoon, I ran into State Senator José Serrano in Good Shepherd Plaza. As our outgoing representative – because of redistricting – he expressed his disappointment over losing Roosevelt Island.

“But I’ll come back for events,” he said.

Roosevelt Island Day and Fall for Arts are his favorites.

FIGMENT NYC brought tourists pouring into Lighthouse Park for inventive artistic creations. It was the rare event that brought visitors north through the community.

In light of the indifference to community cohesion that’s been a hallmark of the Shelton J. Haynes era at RIOC, he’s well advised to see them while he can. They are going away fast.

Changes: Are they permanent?

While the pandemic certainly played a role in tightening up events, that’s continued even as almost all restrictions have been listed. This year, Haynes wanted to cancel Fall for Arts altogether but was talked out of it by managers.

By the time a call for artists was needed, RIOC’s president had sacked everyone who’d worked on the festival in the past, leaving the necessary work in his lap. He didn’t want it.

But his managers persuaded him against dropping the popular community event. There is an established procedure in place, and for the work, they could recruit the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association (RIVAA.)

Annual partner RIVAA had the passion and willingness Haynes lacks. More than one senior staffer refers to him as simply “lazy.”

‘I don’t know what he does up there with the shades drawn all day.”

And with a late start and volunteer staff picking up the pieces, Fall for Arts is restricted to the Rivercross Lawn, a single location, without any of the past extensions of music and food in Southpoint.

Shrinking Community Events

FIGMENT NYC was a coup for Roosevelt Island when then RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal snagged it away from Governors Island in 2018.

Visitors along with Roosevelt Islanders streamed north to Lighthouse Park along both promenades. That was a win in itself as it exposed them to the larger community that got skipped over with other events.

Erica Spencer EL with Jessica Cerone at FIGMENT NYC in Lighthouse Park. Haynes fired both longtime employees last winter without any public explanation. The community event was likewise disappeared without a word from Haynes.

For this year, the pandemic lifting, FIGMENT NYC swung open again – on Staten Island.

But FIGMENT was a little different. They disappeared altogether.

Also Disappearing: The Parades

Two of Roosevelt Island’s most popular annual events, sending kids and young at heart parading up Main Street, disappeared. The first, kicking off the Little League season, vanished without a word or apology.

But probably the most disappointing was the loss of the Halloween Parade. For as long as I’ve been on the Island – 22 years – kids in costumes marched past crowds of onlookers on Main Street.

One year, they paraded happily through the snow to a party in Capobianco Field.

But that’s over now, for reasons unknown. A limited event in Southpoint Park, similar to last year’s pandemic-limited gathering, will be held, according to Haynes.

But pandemic restrictions have been lifted, and there’s no excuse for it.

Although a storm rained out the Halloween Parade in 2019, Haynes’s predecessor recognized the importance. She threw, instead, a community party in Sportspark – and came in costume.

Shrinking Roosevelt Island Day

Miniature railroads once ferried kids along the West Promenade, and there were bounce houses for releasing pent-up energy. Swing bands performed for crowds in Good Shepherd Plaza in the afternoon, and jazz groups played for fans on the Meditation Steps.

That’s gone now, maybe permanently or at least until someone who values community events replaces the self-absorbed Haynes.

While features like active exercising led by Island Om uplifted Roosevelt Island Day, a year ago, the community event was shrunk down to a single location, the Rivercross Lawn. There was nothing special for kids, and it appears the Haynes administration will keep it small going forward.

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