Trailblazers Park Opens in Fire Island Pines Harbor

Within this permanent public space, 17 contemporary artists honor a diverse group of LGBTQ+ activists

It’s been quite the summer for Fire Island Pines, a queer social hub and safe haven along with the neighboring hamlet of Cherry Grove. Earlier this year, writer and actor Joel Kim Booster, actor and comedian Bowen Yang and director Andrew Ahn, brought international attention to the LGBTQ+ summer vacation destination with their heartwarming Pride and Prejudice adaptation, Fire Island. Of greater importance, this past weekend, the enchanting enclave received a permanent public space dedicated to the diverse activists that have fought for LGBTQ+ equality over the decades. It’s a necessary addition, found in the same harbor as the HWKN-designed Pines Pavillion, which greets guests as they arrive by ferry.

The park debuts with two different types of trailblazer tributes: a public drinking fountain dressed in a tile mosaic by artist TM Davy, and 16 flags by various acclaimed artists including Wolfgang Tillmans, Nicole Eisenman, Raul de Nieves, Martine Gutierrez and many more. Davy’s mosaic, a functional yet poetic centerpiece, pays homage to key Stonewall uprising figure Marsha P Johnson and fellow trans activist Sylvia Rivera. Davy also conceived the entire outdoor structure, and enlisted others—including renowned architect Scott Bromley, whose work includes the Pines’ Whyte Hall Community Center and Liam O’Malley-Davy of Gay Gardens for landscaping—to bring it to life.

“Trailblazers Park began for me as an open call from the Trailblazers Park Taskforce of FIPPOA,” Davy tells COOL HUNTING. “This association leases the harbor from the Town of Brookhaven and allows the Pines more public autonomy. Led by Doug Harris, one of the first Black homeowners here, the Taskforce asked for an artist to pay tribute to a long list of trailblazers that shaped our present freedoms with the full spectrum of their truths. The first part of my work was to realize that it wasn’t right for me to represent such brilliant diversity alone. It was an opportunity instead for the beautifully diverse artist community that now flourishes here to speak together.”

“This community of artists has blossomed in the last decade thanks to the BOFFO residency,” he adds, “which has invited many excellent Black artists, trans artists and queer artists of color to feel belonging and love on this island. I dreamt of what now waves toward the ferry as it enters the harbor, a canopy of banner flags, each celebrating the love of one Pines artist for an LGBTQIA2s+ ancestor whose life opened the gates of our collective liberation.”

For those 16 satin banner flags, each pairs one of the aforementioned contemporary artists with an activist like James Baldwin, Edie Windsor, Larry Kramer, Carmen Vázquez, Audre Lorde, Zuni Native American leader We’Ha, the The Invading Drag Queens on the Fourth of July and more. Every two years, a new group will be honored. “You can learn about the first group of incredible artists and trailblazers from the QR code on the old telephone pole next to the installation,” Davy continues. “Crayton Robey, one of the brilliant Taskforce members at the heart of this project, told me that police once handcuffed queers to this pole for expressing their sexuality in public. Now it is a site of historical remembrance and celebration of that queer revolution.”

Davy’s connection to the park’s thoughtful garden is quite personal for many reasons. “My husband, Liam, began a landscaping business in the Pines called Gay Gardens. Gay once meant a belonging in love for all the rainbow ways of being made unwelcome by white American patriarchal culture,” he says. “The metaphor of the garden is apt for our community. An entire ecosystem suffers when a colonial monoculture is spread over the splendid diversity belonging to a place. On this barrier island, it is easy to see how poisonous such forced order becomes and how easily it collapses with climate change. Already though, in the new garden of Trailblazers Park, the pollinators are present.”

Davy says he rests his hopes and dreams in the fountain, as well. “Marsha P Johnson faces north and greets every visitor with the warmth of her solar headdress glowing gold across the Great South Bay. She wears a new moon around her neck like the ‘Pay It No Mind’ of her name, welcoming her children. On the west-facing side, you can press the new crescent moon to fill your cup or wash your feet across a Fire Island sunset, the dawning of our age. On the south face, the waxing half moon holds a wave to drink from if you press the lighting in the cloud. Facing east, the waning half moon will offer the standing a drink if you press the golden flower in Sylvia’s hair. Her revolutionary mind is the rising sun, her crescent moon necklace waning back to a new beginning.”

“The Pines, a summer beach community, did not have a public source of free drinking water for its residents or visitors,” Davy adds. “To withhold such a simple life force had meaning, and simply providing it is the meaning of this work. May it see every direction grow and care for the splendid ecosystem of our love and freedom.” Altogether, the park represents acceptance and artistry; it’s a monument to queer history and a quest for greater diversity.

Images courtesy of Wilsonmodels