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Public Art Project Torn to Bits After Crashing Ashore at Rikers Island

By Carla Zanoni | October 27, 2011 6:47am | Updated on October 27, 2011 8:24am

INWOOD — Talk about a private art showing.

A sculpture headed by river from the Bronx to a public display in Inwood Hill Park broke free of its moorings last week, drifted across the East River and ran aground on the high security jail at Rikers Island.

Guards at the island's prison went on high alert as the large metal dome, made from recycled  umbrella shafts and called the Harvest Dome, washed up ashore attached to six canoes with no passengers.

“The correction officers immediately went to see what it was, their first concern being security, and second seeing if someone was on the structure that needed saving,” said Sharman Stein, deputy commissioner for public information at the Department of Corrections.

After finding the canoes unmanned, the special operations department on Riker’s put in a call to the NYPD Harbor patrol, where they learned about the project and owners and ruled out a security threat.

They then pulled the structure onto the island by rope before towing it with a truck.

“During that action it got disassembled,” Stein said.  

Amanda Schachter, one of the architects who created the eco-art installation, visited Rikers on Wednesday and said the dome was torn to shreds.

“The dome was reduced to a pile of broken plywood and tangled metal,” she said. “We were able to salvage the six canoes and bring them back with us.”

Residents and art enthusiasts in Inwood were disappointed when the public art installation did not show up on Friday last week as planned.

The piece, that floats on a ring of 128 recycled soda bottles, was slated to sail into Inwood Hill Park’s inlet, but had made its unplanned prison visit two days earlier, according to Schachter.

The skeletal structure was floated from the Bronx River to the East River, where the plan was to travel up to the Harlem River and along the waterway that connects the Harlem and Hudson Rivers. That channel lets into the Inwood Hill Park salt marsh where the dome was meant to rest on display through mid-November.

The structure, funded through a Manhattan Community Arts Fund (MCAF) grant of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in collaboration with the Parks Department, was pulled along by a boat that tugged a pontoon of six canoes, which were manned by two people who traveled with the unit in order to monitor the installation and make sure the canoes did not sink.

As weather got rough, the canoes were tossed in the East River and quickly filled with water, leaving the canoe paddlers no choice but to cut the rope mooring the art work in order to ensure their safety.

Within minutes, the unmanned canoes and dome washed ashore on the rocks of Riker’s Island where it sustained damage, according to Schachter.

“There was no way we could get the dome from the rocks or we would have been moored there with it,” she said. “The island is not meant to be a place where it’s easy to get on and off.”

Schachter said she picked up the six canoes on Wednesday this week.

The corrections department plans to hold onto the dome shards until the organization is able to come retrieve it from the island.

“We hope to repair the dome and bring it to Inwood once the weather is warmer,” Schachter said.