News Brooklyn Navy Yard

Meet Our Team: Tour Guide Rich Garr

Over the next several weeks, we will be posting brief interviews with all of our great team members at Turnstile Tours.  From historians to actors, special education professionals to artists, our team possesses a wide range of experience and expertise that helps to make our tours well-crafted, engaging, and accessible to any audience.

[Update: Rich left Turnstile Tours in February 2014. You can still join him for tours with his own walking tour company, Gotham SideWalks.]

Meet Rich Garr, an artist, guide, and museum educator who leads many of our tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, including our Seasonal Photography Tours (our summer installment just took place – see some of the participants’ photos and read Rich’s thoughts on the program here).

Where are you from originally, Rich?  What brought you to New York?

I’m from Cleveland, Ohio … our nation’s best-kept secret.  And I originally came here for college at Fordham University in the Bronx.  I traveled and studied for a bit after undergrad, and landed in Brooklyn because of a girl (… who is now my wife).

And what do you do at Turnstile Tours?

I’m primarily a guide, but like most of the Turnstile team, I do research, tour development, writing, and some administrative work.  Right now I concentrate on the Photography and Overview tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

You have a lot of experience in museums – where did you work before coming to Turnstile?

When I moved to Brooklyn about seven years ago, I had hoped to get a spot as an intern in the education department at the Brooklyn Museum.  I had already taught kids’ art classes for years at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and I needed a way to get plugged into the New York scene.  I got the internship, and it was intense.  I was leading school programs at the same time that I organized First Saturday events and the grand opening of the Feminist Art wing.  After the Brooklyn Museum, I started freelancing and renting an art studio in Gowanus.  I developed some of my own tours as a company called Gotham SideWalks, and worked at places like St. John the Divine, The Educational Alliance Art School, and Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park.

Detail of Rich Garr’s in-process collage; acrylic paint and paper on found board (2013).

You’re also an artist yourself.  Tell us a bit about your art.

The art in general is collage.  I use lots of found materials because it innately reflects who I am and what surrounds me.  Like tours, collage allows me to create narratives and make sense out of my surroundings.  In both tours and in art, there’s a lot of content and material out there.  I try to use my skills and background to create connections and to be part of a meaningful dialogue about all this content.

Has your work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard inspired any of your artwork?

In a way, sure.  The way that history is respected and preserved, and used in the creation of current and future success is inspiring. From an art standpoint, it’s like how Bob Dylan was inspired by the spirit and tone of  Irish rebel songs when he first came to Greenwich Village.  The spirit and tone of the Navy Yard inspires my collage [Ed. note: See more of  Rich’s artwork here].

What is your favorite story to tell visitors on your Navy Yard tour?

The story is only indirectly related, but I always try to fit it in.  The first commandant of the Yard, and probably the first resident of the big mansion in Vinegar Hill, was John Thorn.  He took time off from the Navy to work with John Jacob Astor and ended up being scalped by American Indians after a fur trading expedition to the Pacific Northwest went awry.  The story contextualizes 1810 New York City well, even if some of the details remain vague.  It combines many issues into one short, exciting tale.

What do you enjoy most about the Photography Tour?

The photo tour is fun for every level of photographer.  It’s a way to explore the mysterious land of the Navy Yard, and it empowers creativity and expression.  The Instagram contest that parallels the tour reinforces these themes, but also introduces tourgoers to the work of tenants in the Yard [Ed. note: Every seasonal photography tour is followed by a photo contest in which Yard-based artists and photographers select their three favorite pictures.  Read about the judges for our winter, spring, and summer 2013 tours].

Tell us one of your favorite spots, activities, or historical tidbits about New York.

I’ll give you one of each.

A favorite spot: on the beach where Coney Island and Brighton Beach meet.

A favorite activity: visiting the galleries of the Brooklyn Museum with my daughter on Thursday evenings.

And for a historical tidbit: New York City was originally a 17th-century Dutch business investment.  This isn’t a very exciting fact, but it goes a long way in explaining contemporary New York.

Meet Rich in person on many of our Overview Tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which are offered every Saturday and Sunday at 2:30pm, or on our Seasonal Photography Tour – the last photography tour of 2013 will be offered Saturday, October 19 at 11am.  Advance ticket purchases are recommended – please visit our tour page for tickets and information.  Photography Tours are also available as a private group tour by bus or bicycle year-round – please visit our Private Group Tours page or contact us for more information or to schedule a tour.  All Brooklyn Navy Yard Tours are offered in partnership with the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92, which offers free admission to three floors of exhibitions on the yard’s history, the Ted & Honey rooftop café, and a host of great special events and programs.

Read Rich’s post about the winning photos on the winter edition of our Seasonal Photography Tour.