Festival of Ideas for the New City

Bushwick Sign People

I’m going to take a break from my Buenos Aires travelogue to recap an event in NYC that I attended this past weekend. The Festival of Ideas for the New City was a collaboration between several downtown organizations anchored by the New Museum. The biggest event was the Saturday street fest which stretched along the Bowery and over into a park.

We started our visit out strong with Cabinet Magazine’s University-on-the-Bowery, which was offering one-on-one lectures by scholars on their areas of expertise. Our lecture was on poetry, particularly the way poems in English get their rhythm from the stressed parts of the words. So after reading some Auden and Dickinson, we continued on our way feeling much more enlightened.

Smoothie Bike

The “ideas” of the festival were all about rethinking our interaction with urban space, particularly that of New York (perhaps even more specific: Brooklyn, which was a little odd for a Manhattan festival). Bicycles, of course, were in abundance. I did like the smoothie making bike above. I assume it would be blended by the time you reached your destination.

Bushwick Art Park

The most photographed participant was probably Bushwick Art Park, which had those fantastic sign people I started this post with and also…

Knit People!

Some lounging knit people by Olek! You might remember when I happened upon her knit apartment a few months ago. Later in the day we saw a knit bike chained to a pole.

Space Buster and DIY lounge chairs.

Over in the park, we wandered around these lounge chairs you could assemble and saw the temporary, inflatable Space Buster.

The subway could...

Some of the participants were direct in asking for your ideas, like with this chalkboard acting as a forum on the subway. I realize that everyone has the same handwriting as me when they are writing in chalk, so I’ll just say that our unpictured response was to have better outer borough service. (Please!)

Typewriter Shoes

While in the end they seemed more trouble than they were worth, these typewriter shoes were delightful. Each person had two letters/symbols, and bracelets that remind them which is on which foot. Two people had harnesses that connected to a huge scroll that was rolled out and they were attempting to write a paragraph.

Eviction Keys

These eviction keys, especially being on the Bowery that has experienced such rapid change, were a reminder of the continued problem of rent in this city.

Truck Garden

And what about the lack of urban green space? Sure, you could set up a roof garden…but why not use a pick up truck?

School Nite installation

After over two hours at the festival, we took a break to watch the Kentucky Derby at an LES bar and drink a couple of mint juleps. And that was the 30 seconds of the year when I care about horse racing.

That evening, we continued to another Festival of Ideas event: School Nite.

School Nite: School Yard

School Nite was held in an empty elementary school, with different artists and organizations taking over the classrooms and hallways. Out in the school yard, there was music and a bar made of doors. You got a big “HALL PASS” stamp on your hand on entering the building.


I liked how the pastel colored school rooms lined with chalkboards gave a contrasting or collaborating innocence to the art installations. It especially worked with Boyfriend/Girlfriend, which had a pile of candy you could take, but which turned out to be spraypainted plaster.

Oliver Warden

This artist, Oliver Warden, encased himself in a plexiglass box that had a light switch. When it was off, the front just looked like a mirror and when you turned it on, he quickly turned it off again.

Installation by Joy Drury Cox.

This installation by Joy Drury Cox, presented by the Humble Arts Foundation, had the blank pages from books arranged on the walls.

Gowanus Studio Space

Gowanus Studio Space had a preview of its summer maritime arts festival Sea Worthy.

Underground Library

Especially enjoyable was the Underground Library, where an instructor distributed poetry books that we read aloud from. I sort of felt like I’d stumbled back into Sleep No More. The idea of the Underground Library is to distribute alternative music and fiction by mail, complete with check out slips. I am definitely going to become a member.

If a Care Bear was a real bear.

Drive By Press was displaying some results of its mobile printing unit. On the same floor, we stopped in on a tea ceremony in a makeshift yurt.

I'm loosing my mind.

School Board

Justin Adian had covered a whole bulletin board in ads. I was drawn to the octopus and greatly amused by this one for Cats.

Futuristic device.

This futuristic pendulum by artist Bill Smith with PPOW Gallery was made with an emu egg in water, magnets, and compressed air. Its rise and fall was related to the animals that were projected on the wall. It was definitely the most exquisite art I saw. In the room’s coat closet he had installed an illumination of a locust shell.

Eerie dance.

The most unsettling art was this performance by Amanda Schmitt and Myla Dalbesio that had two girls in pink dresses dancing in a smoky room filled with balloons. It was eerily beautiful, although also a little terrifying.

Courtyard drumming.

We briefly attended a slideshow on the Chairs of Berlin, and then headed back to the school yard where several drummers were syncing their beats with the lights of the curious triangle structure shown above.

Flash: Light

Night had fallen, and we continued to Flash: Light, where part of Mulberry Street was closed and swarming with people and light installations.

Street Lights

The festive atmosphere was contagious, and made me happy that the warm and active days of NYC have finally returned. People are outside!

3D Film showing in a church.

In St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Marco Brambilla’s film Civilization, a re-imagining of Dante’s Divine Comedy, was screening in 3D. It was quite surreal to be in the old stone church, surrounded by people in cheap red and blue 3D glasses, with a whiff of incense coming from the shadows where candles were lit around saints.

New Museum graffiti: READ READ READ

Our last stop was back on Bowery at the New Museum, where films were being screened on its Jenga-block surface. It was mesmerizing and really well done. I, unsurprisingly, rather liked this literary graffiti.

And after all that, we retreated into a coffee shop for a much needed rest. If the new city is anything like this, I will be pleased.

4 thoughts on “Festival of Ideas for the New City

  1. Monklin says:

    This seriously looks like so much fun.

  2. eszter says:

    tossup between underground library and hell in the church for best moment of the day. thanks for blogging this; i tried to tell a few different people everything that was going on that day and it sounded way more convoluted and less awesome than it actually was.

  3. (Thanks for the SHOUT OUT!)

    (We had fun too.)

    (Between SCHOOL NITE, NUIT BLANCHE NEW YORK, and ST. PATRICK’S OLD CATHEDRAL, it was one of the best things we’ve experienced in NYC in a very, very long time.)

    (Thanks for covering it.)

    The Underground Librarians

  4. Allie says:

    Thanks for all your comments! Eszter: thanks for being my +1 on the adventure!

    (Secret Librarian: I’ve become an Underground Library member! Looking forward to participating in your project. I hope you have more events soon.)

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