The Friends of Alice Austen House (AAH) has partnered with the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) to install this new community garden that echoes the LGBTQ+ themes found throughout our historic house museum and fifteen-acre waterfront park.
AAH and its surrounding park and gardens are nationally designated sites of LGBTQ+ significance, having been occupied for 30 years by Alice and her loving partner, Gertrude Tate. With the distinct viewpoint that gardens have long been spaces of acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community, we have created this garden to serve as a gathering place that offers freedom, comfort, and fosters understanding.
The newly installed Queer Ecologies Garden, situated in the park, will soon be ready for planting and maintenance by the AAH staff and Staten Island teen Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSA) groups. AAH, students from the Pratt Institute Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment, and the NYRP have come together to design the garden with the mission to challenge the notion of heteronormativity through the choice of flora.
Alice Austen, the founder of the Staten Island Garden Club, took pride and comfort in her garden, using it as a photographic muse and a safe space for her women companions. The garden provided a literal and symbolic escape from the strict Victorian mores imposed on women and LGBTQ+ identifying individuals at the time.
This garden program will provide a museum-based GSA meeting hub, bringing together GSA students from across Staten Island and building upon our existing LGBTQ+ Photographic Storytelling programs. The aim is to create pathways for students to learn about careers in horticulture, parks, and museums. The program will provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ students to meet and spend time with their peers from across Staten Island.
The Alice Austen House has also enlisted the expertise of Marisa Prefer as our queer garden consultant. Marisa brings extensive experience in projects centered around environmental justice and stewardship, utilizing alternative pedagogies, deep observation, and ancestral wisdom to cultivate care among multi-species communities. As a NYC Master Composter, NYC Trees Community Pruner, and NYC Parks Super Steward, Marisa actively tends to the unceded Canarsie and Munsee Lenape lands in Red Hook, Brooklyn in their role as the Manager of Sustainability and Environmental Engagement at Pioneer Works.
Gardens have historically been used as symbols of freedom and escape from oppression. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, when homosexuality was illegal in many countries, gardens were often secret meeting places for queer people to socialize and express themselves.
Gardens provide a space for self-expression and creativity, where queer people can explore their identity and freely express themselves through gardening, art, and other forms of creative expression. Gardens have been places where queer people could come together, form communities, share experiences, and offer support to one another.
Gardens have also served as therapeutic spaces for queer individuals who have experienced trauma or discrimination, providing a sense of peace and healing. Overall, gardens have historically provided a refuge for queer people, offering a safe and nurturing environment where they can be themselves and connect with others who share similar experiences.
Photo credit: Christian Rodriguez