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When Joy Glidden organized the first DUMBO
Art Under the Bridge festival in 1996, she aimed to bring attention
to the sorely neglected neighborhood and reposition it as a sort
of New York City-style Left Bank. Eight years later, DUMBO rivals
the art scene in SoHo and Chelsea, and the three-day festival,
beginning Oct. 15, is one of the largest and most important cultural
"The first year it had a sort of guerrilla-ish excitement," says Glidden, founding director of the DUMBO Arts Center (DAC), which organizes the festival. "We had around 200 artists participating then."
Now the number has ballooned to more than 1,500, with art installations, open studios and musical and theatrical performances incorporated into the festival, which covers 30 blocks of DUMBO and neighboring Vinegar Hill. Local galleries, businesses and artists’ organizations all join in.
Highlights of the weekend include the "Parade of Concepts," a street procession with Frank Didik’s electric cars and the one-man audio parade of Jeff Karolski. Slide, film and video projections grace various streets and buildings, and short films and videos by New York City artists screen Saturday and Sunday afternoon and evening.
All of the arts, from dance to painting, are represented, and events take place throughout the hidden nooks and crannies of DUMBO, from the last few abandoned buildings to the newly revamped Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park. At the York Street F train subway stop, catch Lee Joong-Keun’s vinyl installation, part of the "Korean Art Now" exhibition. At the Tobacco Warehouse in the park, Matching Recordings hosts bands including Nervous Caberet, Burnside Project, Bronx Monx and Mink Lungs. And at White Wave Performance and Rehearsal Space, at 25 Jay St. at John Street, more than 80 dance companies will showcase their choreography.
Since the DUMBO waterfront parks have been revitalized, DAC welcomed a number of water-themed works to this year’s festival, including Murat Musulluoglu’s mosaic installation, "Welcome," using 20,000 tiny cups of colored water, and Ilan Sandler and Ron Mirieu’s "Ear to the Sky," a floating ear that channels river sounds toward the shore.
Those who are more academically inclined might try the artists’ talk with Martha Rossler and Carolee Schneeman, two veterans of the feminist art movement.
For DUMBO artists, the festival offers the chance for the public, as well as art world professionals, to peer into their private workspaces.
"Everybody who has a studio down here has the opportunity of having curators, collectors, dealers and critics come by," says Glidden. "It’s a golden opportunity if you’re unrepresented."
A painter herself, Glidden joined an early wave of artists relocating to DUMBO in 1990, although the success of the festival has put a dent in her own art-making; she estimates that 90 percent of her time goes toward administrative tasks. But that doesn’t change her mission: to continue remaking DUMBO as an artists’ haven.
"It was basically an abandoned, desolate area back then," she says. "The artists would run from their studios to the subway." The lack of city amenities like street cleaning and garbage pickup, coupled with the many abandoned factories, once made DUMBO a forbidding place, albeit one that Glidden loved.
"I felt like I was discovering the most incredible little well-kept secret in the world," she said. The festival was designed to foment dialogue among artists, who can tend toward isolation, and bring attention to their work.
"It really had community interests at heart," says Glidden. "We wanted to take the power out of the few gallery hands and bring it back to the artists, to hold open studios so they could become free agents."
Now, the neighborhood might be almost too well known. Skyscraper wars are raging as groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the veteran DUMBO developers Two Trees Management attempt to raise buildings as high as 20-stories in the area. But Glidden says the potential development doesn’t hinder the artists or the festival. In 1997, Two Trees’ father-and-son development team of David and Jed Walentas donated space to DAC, and have continued to be one of the festival’s biggest supporters. They offer aid in the form of sanitation, donated space and cleanup crews.
"This festival just would not happen without them," says Glidden. "Their support is massive."
Just like the neighborhood, the festival has changed. It’s gotten bigger and better, and Glidden says what started as a guerilla-style taking-of-the-streets has become a legitimate and unparalleled art world happening.
"I really think that the DUMBO Art Under the Bridge Festival is completely unique," she says. "There’s nothing else like it."
The DUMBO Art Under the Bridge Festival runs Oct. 15-17. Some events are free, and others require admission. A $25 General Weekend Pass buys entry to all events at Soundbox (37 Main St. between Front and Water streets) and unlimited weekend film festival attendance (45 Main St. between Front and Water streets, ninth floor). Tickets, schedules and maps are available at DAC, 30 Washington St. between Water and Plymouth streets in DUMBO. For more information, call (718) 694-0831 or visit www.dumboartscenter.org.
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
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