An aerial view of the Washington Square Arch with a crowd of NYU students wearing purple outfits in the background and holding up giant NYU letters.
NYU hosts a series of welcome events for the year’s incoming class in late August. August 2022. (Courtesy of Kevin Wu)
Kevin Wu

A Photographic Welcome to Washington Square Park

WSN photographers walk you through moments in the park from over the past year.

“The city is your campus” may seem just like a marketing catch phrase to lure in new recruits like you, but Washington Square Park proves to be the exception. The park is the spiritual linchpin binding the Manhattan campus together and grounds the NYU community in the city. Filmmakers in the Tisch School of the Arts shoot their school projects on the grounds; Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development musicians busk for parkgoers on the benches. Rumor has it that, as an NYU student, walking directly under the arch before graduation is a bad omen.

Pedestrians dressed in heavy jackets walk on the east side of Washington Square Park covered in snow.
(Courtesy of Qianshan Weng)

While Washington Square Park is an integral part of the university, its history stretches far beyond NYU. For decades, the park has been a brewing ground for creative and social change; Jean-Michel Basquiat used to sleep on the park benches before he met Andy Warhol, and after the 1969 Stonewall uprising, it became a congregation point for what was then known as the Gay Liberation Movement. The next world-famous influencer is probably in the park filming man-on-the-street interviews, as are the creators you already see in your feed.

Artist Antonio Garcia, who has black curly hair and is wearing a striped shirt, gray pants and orange shoes, sits on the ground in front of the Washington Square Arch, with a selection of his paintings displayed around him. To his left is a canvas with a dark purple background depicting two human-like figures, the one on the left being bright pink and the one on the right being light purple. To his right is a canvas painted light red with a smeared texture depicting a multicolored cow-like creature.
Artist Antonio Garcia sells his own artwork in Washington Square Park. October 2022. (Danny Arensberg for WSN)
Colin Huggins wearing all black playing a grand piano in the middle of a park. The piano’s paint is worn off on the edges and text “this machine kills fascists” is etched onto the paint in all caps.
Colin Huggins, who is known as the Piano Man, plays classical music in the Park. After the pandemic he is houseless and sleeps with his piano outside the park. June 2022. (Courtesy of Kevin Wu)

Today, performance artists, musicians, painters and photographers flock to the park to be inspired by its chaotic but vitalizing ambience. Crowds protesting a litany of issues use the park as a place to make their voices heard, raising their flags and banners under the arch. Vendors selling art and offering free poems set up shop around the fountain. Walking around the park is always an overload for the senses, with new people, experiences and sounds waiting around every corner. Just make sure you’re aware of your surroundings, and if you’re there at night, bring some friends — and don’t forget the park closes at midnight.

A crowd of protesters standing under Washington Square Arch holding the Iranian flag and signs with a person holding a wood stick with a strand of black hair hanging by the end of it.
New Yorkers attended a protest for Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman who died while in custody by the morality police. October 2022. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)
In a large crowd of people, a sign written on a transgender flag reading “You Will Never Eradicate Us,” is held up in Washington Square Park.
Thousands march to the park from Union Square to celebrate the International Transgender Day of Visibility. March, 2023. (Danny Arensberg for WSN)

Washington Square Park is an iconic fixture across pop culture, and if you’ve never been to New York to see it in person, it can seem almost larger than life. The park’s representation in movies and literature, including NYU’s own promotional material, makes it seem much bigger than it is. When Harry and Sally part ways in front of the arch when they reach New York or when the ghost emerges through the arch on New Year’s Eve in Ghostbusters, the structure towers over the characters. In reality, the arch is about as tall as a five-story building and is easily dwarfed by the skyscrapers running down Fifth Avenue. Like many New York tourist spots, Washington Square Park is a place where cultural significance surpasses its physical grandeur. Coming to NYU and becoming a part of the process that continuously defines what the park is will demystify its image and materialize it into a lived experience.

When your first finals season comes along, take a short stroll through the park after a long day of studying in Bobst Library, or take a seat on a bench and listen to the park pianist before your next class. Washington Square Park is defined by its people. Soon you’ll be one of those people, and it’ll be your turn to see what the park means to you.

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