Updated 5/5, 10:27 a.m. Washington Square Park Conservancy stated at its onset in 2013 that programming was not part of the private organization’s “safe, clean and beautiful” mission for the park. The four affluent private conservancy founders first came before the public in June of that year, notably misrepresenting and avoiding revealing finer details of their plans to Community Board 2, the entity charged with the group’s “approval.” The founders omitted the fact that in the organization’s 501(c)3 documents (documents they neglected to mention to the Board) filed to New York State, they outlined plans for “film festivals and theatrical productions” (and many other omissions). When C.B. 2 became aware of Washington Square Park Blog’s investigation into the matter, they chose to look the other way. The group insisted they had no such plans.
This private group’s first step towards gaining sway related to programming at the park was when the organization early on started giving $500 “grants” to groups already providing annual programs. Groups which had been doing events for years at the park, including Dances for a Variable Population, Washington Square Music Festival, Washington Square Folk Festival, (French) Films on the Green, and more. For that $500, Washington Square Park Conservancy got its name attached to these events in the park. Again, events which had managed for more than a decade without the organization’s help.
Private Group is Now Doing Events at Park Outside Its Purview With no Oversight
Once George Vellonakis, controversial re-designer of the park, was appointed Park Administrator in 2017, the organizing of events at the park was shifted slowly by 2020, when he mysteriously disappeared, to Washington Square Park Conservancy. These events were previously handled for years by the person in that position employed by the New York City Parks Department.
Events – including yoga, tai chi, tango, organized city-wide – handled by the Parks Department for many years were now allotted to this private group in order to slowly shift responsibilities with, again, no input from the public. Vellonakis had a problematic “dual role” where he also acted as “Executive Director” of the private conservancy. Will Morrison, the current Deputy Park Administrator, solely works – in theory – for the city’s Parks Department.
Sheryl Woodruff, now “Deputy Director” of the private conservancy, stated in Gothamist’s March 31st article, Mission creep: Emails show how wealthy donors exerted influence over Washington Square Park: “The conservancy is currently hiring its own ‘program manager’ to plan events aimed at kids and senior citizens.” Hmm.
At the exact same time, the famous Blue Note announced that it was presenting a huge jazz concert on June 1st in Washington Square Park “with Washington Square Park Conservancy” – the same group that claimed it would not be doing programming / or only to kids or older folks. Programming an event with the Blue Note with major acts at the park is not a small scale event aimed at kids or senior citizens.
On top of the fact that Community Board 2’s own resolution governing this entity, passed in 2013, states: “WSPC will not have a role in policy, planning or event creation.“
The Parks Department of the City of New York continues to run and manage Washington Square Park as stipulated by the community.
This city agency for years has been able to handle all programs in Washington Square Park — why now is a private group being charged with this to the point that they are hiring another employee – “Programs Manager” – to do so? Something that goes against C.B. 2’s own resolution passed in June 2013 as to what this private entity can and cannot do.
Stay tuned for Part III.
More at Washington Square Park Blog:
Community Board 2’s resolution “approving” Washington Square Park Conservancy
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