Plant Specialists (NY)Recruit Talent
Growing the Workforce in Long Island City
Bordering the East River in Queens, New York, Long Island City has undergone a massive transformation over the past two decades, evolving from an industrial neighborhood into a popular residential area with a robust arts scene. One of the early markers of Long Island City’s future as an arts hub was the 1986 creation of Socrates Sculpture Park on an abandoned landfill and illegal dump site along the waterfront.
Today, Socrates Sculpture Park provides artists with opportunities to create and exhibit large-scale sculpture and multi-media installations in the public realm. The park's free public programs include performances of theater, music, opera, and dance; outdoor cinema screenings; and efforts to encourage healthy living, such as greenmarkets and fitness classes. Admission and all of their programming is free of charge.
The park’s success is in part due to a two-decades long partnership with Plant Specialists, a local landscaping business. The company employs horticulturalists, landscape architects, and designers who create and improve gardens throughout the tri-state area. Nearly all of the hundreds of trees, plants, and shrubbery visitors enjoy throughout Socrates Sculpture Park have been donated by Plant Specialists.
Plant Specialists believes that the arts are essential to the quality of life of residents and neighborhoods alike – as a source for economic and community development, and as a platform for generating creative ideas and experiences that make life enjoyable for all. The company makes an effort to support arts in the community and, by doing so, have an impact on local economic development.
Initially, Plant Specialists contributed pro-bono landscaping for Socrates Sculpture Park. That partnership has since grown into the Community Works Initiative, a program that not only fosters a cultural hub, but also helps the company train potential employees and create new jobs in the community. The Community Works Initiative offers employment and job training in basic landscaping and horticulture skills to unemployed residents of nearby public housing who work at Socrates for one season. Once they “graduate,” Plant Specialists often brings them onto its landscaping team for full-time employment.
According to the company’s Director, Grahame Hubbard, when Plant Specialists and Socrates Sculpture Park first initiated the Community Works Initiative, the area surrounding the park had one of the highest unemployment rates in NYC. Plant Specialists has since hired 33 people through the program and one of the original participants was promoted to crew leader. In 2016, Socrates Sculpture Park also committed to raising the program’s minimum wage to $15 per hour (as compared to the $9 state law).
The partnership has not only helped Plant Specialists recruit and retain talent, but it has also helped to transform the community—planting the seeds for future growth. As participants train and work at Socrates Sculpture Park alongside Plant Specialists employees, the company builds local appreciation for the natural landscape, as well as the artworks on view at Socrates. Since most exhibiting artists create their work in the park’s open studio facilities on park grounds, both the creative process and finished artworks are accessible to participants of the program, who become part of the Socrates family for the season.
The partnership has helped Socrates Sculpture Park earn recognition as essential to the community. “Before the works initiative program, the park was constantly vandalized and tagged with graffiti,” Hubbard said. “Since the works initiative program we have had little to no problems with vandalizing or tagging. The park is seen as being owned by the community, and it exists to support the community.” Hubbard claims that this unique training program creates a bond of loyalty between the participants, the company, and the park.