George Washington Tourist-in-Chief Project, Denied by City, Gets Support from Community Board


George Washington, of Union Square, was a superhero for a few days in January. He and fellow statues around the city donned capes to promote the premiere of an NBC show about a cop-turned-superhero. George held a basket of flowers once, too, for Arbor Day in 2008. But the City of New York Parks & Recreation Department won’t let him play New York tourist for a day, as part of the Art in Odd Places festival. Leon Reid IV, the artist, is befuddled at the department’s decision. Last night, after hearing a presentation by Reid, equally befuddled Community Board 5 members decided to lend their support to the project.

When Leon Reid IV submitted a special events application for his “Tourist-in-Chief” project as a part of the Art in Odd Places festival, the Parks Department told him to present his idea to the CB5’s Parks committee, which had a meeting scheduled for last night. Reid said someone from the department also called him last week with a few follow-up questions; the application form only provides enough space for a brief explanation.

The department has not directly issued a denial to Reid. But, according to CB5 Parks committee chair Joseph Hagelmann, in advance of last night’s meeting the department informed the community board via email that they planned to reject the project and would be letting Reid know soon in writing. They did not provide reasons why. (The department had already confirmed to press earlier that the project would be blocked.)

The transformation of Washington into NYC tourist, as Reid envisions, would need several items, including a camera, subway map, shopping bags, and an I heart NY cap. Reid said the props, made of cloth, plastic, and foam, and hung with light fishwire as needed, would “weigh no more than the birds that land on Washington’s head.” Reid would be present at the site during the 13 hours on October 1 that Washington would play tourist. There would also be an information stand explaining George Washington’s connection with New York. Reid has raised more than $3,000 for the project via Kickstarter, and has started making the props.

Reid has done another similar project, when he dressed a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Manchester, England for the installation “True Yank.”

One committee member said the project sounded like “a great idea,” a sentiment echoed by his colleagues. “A lot of people don’t know why Washington’s in Union Square,” he said, and later added, “The Parks Department has allowed these statues to be draped…I don’t see why we should just rubber stamp” their decision. The community board decided, unanimously, to approve Reid’s application and to seek explanations from the Parks Department.

A Parks representative, in attendance at last night’s meeting to present on another installation at Union Square, declined to answer questions from CB5, deferring to the Special Events department instead. We’ve been told the Parks Department will be issuing a statement shortly — stay tuned!

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