2006: Assembling the Team / Action Arts League

With a name for the event, David began to develop a presentation that could help explain to people what FIGMENT was, and to inspire them to want to be a part of it. Amy Shapiro worked with David to plan a meeting in his apartment for key community arts organizers on April 17, 2006. The attendees included David and Sasha Koren, Amy Shapiro from Circle Arts, Kostume Kult arts collective founder Jim Glaser, event producer Abby Ehmann, Madagascar Institute founder Chris Hackett, NYC Burning Man Regional Contact Oscar Yong, event producer Elke Dehner, Sari Rubinstein from the Rubulad arts collective, and Kate Heim, who was a Columbia student who was very interested in participatory arts events. David showed his draft presentation and the group talked about the idea and possible next steps.

Key among the attendees at this meeting was Jim Glaser, a veteran events creator who had recently launched a non-profit organization to develop participatory arts events. Jim had actually started to talk about creating a Burning Man-style event on Governors Island in late 2004, and had introduced visiting Burning Man staff member $teven Ra$pa to City Councilman Alan J. Gerson’s Cultural Liaison Paul Nagle. Jim had also had some conversations with veteran event producers Chris Wangro and Aaron Leventhal of The Usual Suspects about an event on the island. Jim and Paul later met with Councilman Gerson about the idea, who indicated that he would support an artistic, community oriented event, but that some of the elements of Burning Man might not be appropriate for a public park in New York City.

As a follow-up to the initial meeting in David’s apartment, Amy and David planned a small art picnic on Governors Island in July 2006, in order to bring additional members of the arts community to the island and to start to grow momentum. Unfortunately, it rained, and the event was attended by just a small group of interested supporters, among them Jim Glaser.

Action Arts league

In 2006, the not-for-profit organization that Jim Glaser had started, Costume Cultural Society, changed its name to Action Arts League with Leslie Bocskor as Board Chairman, and Jim as Executive Director. In the fall of 2006, AAL board member Vic Sarjoo introduced Jim to Michelle Bouchard, the Vice President of Administration & Finance for GIPEC. Jim reached out to David, and the two of them met with Michelle on the island in November of 2006. They also met with Michelle Marquez, who was the Vice President for Community & Government Affairs. David and Jim toured the island and learned that GIPEC had a new President, Leslie Koch, who had been appointed by Mayor Bloomberg with a mandate to increase attendance and get development moving on the island. At the meeting the group discussed the new David Rockwell and Bruce Mau book Spectacle, which links and identifies similarities between large-scale participatory events are around the world. David and Jim expressed to the GIPEC representatives that they hoped to create an event like that for Governors Island.

Jim introduced David to Tom Smith, a not-for-profit policy expert who had helped to write the Action Arts League by-laws and whose father was a former ferry captain on Governors Island. Tom provided advice on how to navigate the public process to make an event like FIGMENT happen in New York. FIGMENT was able to receive a letter of support for one of its early grant applications from Councilman Gerson.

As David and Jim learned more about the island and the possibilities there, the vision for FIGMENT came into focus. David continued to do version after version of his FIGMENT presentation, drawing a clearer picture of what this event could be. David and Jim had a follow-up meeting with Michelle Marquez and Pnina Michelson, the Director of Special Events on the island, where they identified two distinct possibilities for how FIGMENT could work: either as a private event on the island (charging admission, but having to bear significant expenses) or as a public event (free and open to anyone during the island’s regular operating hours). Given the risks involved, and the fact that FIGMENT was starting without funding, the obvious course seemed to be the public option.