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Snug Harbor

Photo Courtesy Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden

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Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden has long been a forgotten gem of Staten Island since it opened in 1976. It’s made for providing people with new experiences. You can do everything from buying locally grown produce, to taking an art class, or even being transported to China through their traditional Scholar Garden.

I spoke with director and CEO of Snug Harbor, Jessica Vodoor, to talk about the place where art, history, and nature converge.

Madison Colombo: I know Snug Harbor has an interesting history, can you tell me how it came to be?

Jessica Vodoor: Originally the campus has an amazing history. It was one of America's first retirement homes for sailors, it was founded by honestly like a founding father of New York City, his name was Robert Randall. But he was a very wealthy shipping magnate who in the late 1700s died without an heir, and so he decided he wanted to leave his entire fortune to care for the entire population of retired sailors. So he got his friend Alexander Hamilton to help him write his will and to leave his very vast fortune to create a foundation that built these amazing buildings here on Staten Island.

So how did Snug harbor go from a retirement home for sailors, to the cultural center it is today?

There was a group of really amazing, activated, local citizens in Staten Island who came together and really advocated to save Snug Harbor. They made a pitch to really protect these buildings and not knock them down. And at the same time that the New York City landmark commission was being created, these buildings became some of the very first landmarks of New York City. So it was a really an amazing story of community activism that said no this place is too special, it needs to be around for generations to come. Through that, the idea of creating a cultural center that would make this campus a vibrant resource for all of New York City really kicked off.

Snug Harbor features multiple galleries, museums, studios and even has historic cottages for artist residencies. Why do you put such an emphasis on creativity?

It’s really about being a home, a refuge for artists to you know have a place to be safe, to experiment, to take risks, and for a place for the community to engage with that.

 

Like your art offerings, you  also have many natural aspects, like your farm, 14 botanical gardens, and greenspace, but how else do you contribute ecologically?

 

Along with our beautiful gardens. We also have a large area of our campus that are actually state mapped wetlands. We are located in a district that really has some of the highest pollution levels of our city, the neighborhoods all around us are identified as environmental justice areas, and that means that it is really critical for places like this to exist for our community so they have places to go to you know breathe, to walk, to be able to appreciate nature.

 

Why do you think Snug Harbor is special?

I think there's nothing like this in New York City, it is truly unique. So many people I've seen who come to Snug Harbor, the first thing out of their mouth is I can't believe this is here and I never knew it. And it's really a place where you know it is unexpected in its vastness and how many diffent things are here so accessible, and how beautiful, and how much of an oasis it is for people. It's a place to get away from the city, right in the city.

GALLERY