2010: Organizational changes / FIGMENT expands!

As FIGMENT recrafted and improved its organization in preparation for the 2010 season, a few key changes were made in its structure. Jim Glaser stepped down as Executive Director of Action Arts League, and David Koren took on this role as well as retaining the role of Executive Producer of FIGMENT. Debra Keneally, who had joined the FIGMENT team in 2009, took on the role of Production Director for FIGMENT 2010.

After the highly successful FIGMENT 2009 event, it really felt as if FIGMENT had accomplished everything it had set out to do when it began in 2007. The young organization needed to look for new horizons. One immediate idea that emerged late in the summer of 2009 was to create a design competition for young architects, something along the lines of P.S. 1’s Young Architects Program that has hosted an annual invited design competition for five up-and-coming firms a year, since 1999, to create the environment in the outdoor courtyard that becomes the setting for P.S. 1’s Saturday “Warm Up” parties through the summer. Of course, if FIGMENT were to create a competition like this, it would need to be open to anyone to participate. Given David’s background in architecture, and tenure as the former Co-Chair of the Marketing Committee at the AIA New York City Chapter, he started looking around the AIA for potential partners. David had actually collaborated with the Emerging New York Architects (ENYA) Committee of the AIA New York City Chapter to put together a panel discussion on “Burning Man: Planning and Evolution of the Temporary City” in October 2007, so that seemed like the perfect place to begin. David met with Jessica Sheridan and several other members of the ENYA Committee in a teepee that had been installed temporarily in FIGMENT Terrace in August 2009, and started to kick around ideas for a new architectural design competition that the organizations could partner on.

Through a series of conversations, David and Jessica developed the specifics of The City of Dreams Pavilion Design Competition, which would be co-sponsored by FIGMENT, ENYA, and the Structural Engineers Association of New York (SEAoNY). The competition was different from most other architectural design competitions in a few key ways: first, this was not just an “ideas” competition—the winning design was intended to be built; second, the competition would promote sustainability as much as possible, favoring projects that consider the full lifecycle of their materials, utilizing reused or recycled materials and planning for where those materials go after the temporary project is de-installed; third, the competition would seek to fabricate and install the selected project as a community project, using volunteer resources as much as possible.

The first City of Dreams Pavilion Competition was launched in January 2010, and received approximately 60 design proposals. The jury included Illya Azaroff, AIA, Director of Design, The Design Collective Studio; Matthew Bremer, AIA, Principal, Architecture In Formation; Will Laufs, Ph.D., LEED AP, IWE, Vice President, Thornton Tomasetti; Aleksey Lukyanov-Cherny, Situ Studio; Martin Pedersen, Executive Editor, Metropolis Magazine; Rob Rogers, FAIA, Principal, Rogers Marvel Architects; Marc Tsurumaki, LTL Architects. Through a two-stage selection process, the jury narrowed the 60 proposals to four finalists and then gave those four finalists a month to revise and refine their design proposals. After reviewing the final submissions, the jury selected Ann Ha and Behrang Behin’s Living Pavilion as the winner of the competition. The project was installed on the Parade Grounds of Governors Island, and was a central gathering point on the island for the entire 2010 summer season. Daniela Morell serves as the project manager for the installation of the project, managing approximately 70 volunteers who helped to build and maintain the project. (The Living Pavilion is here: http://figmentproject.org/2010/long-term-exhibitions/living-pavilion/.)

Geographic expansion begins

Another major new frontier for FIGMENT opened when Jason Turgeon, who had just returned to his hometown of Boston after his first trip to Burning Man, and stumbled onto a post that David Koren had written on the Burning Man blog. Jason was inspired by Burning Man, and wanted to create something local in Boston that could capture the spirit and energy of Burning Man. The more he read about FIGMENT, the more that he thought that this could be a model for what he wanted to make happen in Boston. Jason shot David an email, and David invited Jason to come down to New York to see the 2009 sculpture garden and minigolf course before it was de-installed. Jason and David immediately began talking about a summer 2010 event in Boston.

Later that fall, David made a trip up to Boston with Debra Keneally, and Jason took them on our tour of Franklin Park, his preferred location for a FIGMENT event. David made an open presentation on FIGMENT at the Boston Public Library, and a team started to coalesce around Jason as the Producer of FIGMENT Boston. Jason and David worked on a grant proposal to the Black Rock Arts Foundation for FIGMENT Boston, which was accepted and became the third grant received by FIGMENT from BRAF.

Unfortunately, the process of getting permission to do an event in a public park in Boston seemed inscrutable, and seemed to go nowhere fast. Jason was introduced to the Cambridge Arts Council, who had been running their annual Cambridge River Festival for over 30 years as a successful one-day arts festival featuring art for sale, commercial vendors, and free stages for local music and performance. They had arranged a larger area for the 2010 festival than they could fill, and they were interested in partnering with FIGMENT to bring a more community-oriented feeling to the festival. Jason learned that Peter Durand, the Burning Man Regional Contact for Boston, had met with the Cambridge Arts Council previously and had in many ways laid the groundwork for this collaboration.

The first FIGMENT event outside of New York City took place on Memorial Drive in Cambridge on Saturday, June 5, 2010, in partnership with the Cambridge Arts Council and next to the Cambridge River Festival. The event featured nearly 100 participatory arts projects, and had approximately 5,000 participants, many of whom had never experienced a participatory arts event before. The three most common questions visitors would ask of the team were, “What is this? Why is nothing for sale? Why is everyone smiling?” It was a great experience for FIGMENT to be a next to an established arts festival, and to see how that audience interacted with and experienced participatory art. A number of team members from New York made the trip to Boston for the event, including David Koren, Debra Keneally, Wylie Stecklow, Ryan Fix, Julie Ziff Sint, Tracy Gillan, and Andrea Schneider.

At the first FIGMENT NYC core team meeting after FIGMENT Boston, some of the team members who weren’t able to make it to Boston asked, “So, did it feel like FIGMENT?” The answer: “Yes, it felt like FIGMENT! It was FIGMENT!” The lesson is that FIGMENT can be replicated, and that FIGMENT is FIGMENT wherever it takes place. This is not a “regional” or “franchise” structure. Each new event in a new location is unique and special, but it’s also, essentially, a FIGMENT event.

Another summer on Governors Island

Meanwhile, back in New York, the team was gearing up for its biggest year yet on Governors Island. FIGMENT was having increasing success with fundraising, both from granting organizations (FIGMENT received 12 grants in 2010, including receiving a grant for the first time from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs) and from its growing signature fundraising event, Groundbreaking, which was held in the Gershwin Hotel in April.

The FIGMENT New York City event was the largest ever, with 23,665 participants over the three days of June 11-13, 2010, who engaged with approximately 400 participatory arts projects. The FIGMENT minigolf course and sculpture garden, which opened on FIGMENT weekend, were again hugely successful, and were visited by an estimated 200,000 people over the summer season (Governors Island had 443,000 visitors in 2010). In order to promote FIGMENT’s branding and to make sure that the public knew that FIGMENT was responsible for the minigolf course and sculpture garden, these summer-long exhibits were renamed from the “City of Dreams Minigolf Course” and the “City of Dreams Sculpture Garden” to the “FIGMENT Minigolf Course” and the “FIGMENT Sculpture Garden.” The only project still bearing the name “City of Dreams” was the Pavilion Design Competition, co-sponsored by FIGMENT, ENYA, and SEAoNY.

(The FIGMENT 2010 website, with artists, projects, maps, and press, is available athttp://figmentproject.org/2010/.)

Over the summer, Governors Island changed from joint city-state management to New York City management under the newly formed Trust for Governors Island, which replaced the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC). A new board was appointed for the new city agency, but island staff, including Leslie Koch and her team, remained in place.

A bit of gratitude: the 11th Principle

During the setup week for FIGMENT NYC 2010, the team was challenged by a number of artists and volunteers not behaving appropriately during set-up: not listening to Governors Island Security staff, trying to sneak onto ferries they weren’t supposed to be on, setting up in the wrong spot and creating friction with other artists, driving on grass they weren’t supposed to be driving on, etc. David immediately wrote a blast email to all 400 or so artists reminding them that FIGMENT is a gift, not something that was automatic or that they were necessarily entitled to, and not to take it for granted, and encouraging them to approach this event and all of the people involved from a place of gratitude. After that, there were no more incidents.

The FIGMENT team started looking at the 10 principles that FIGMENT had adopted from Burning Man to see if there was something in there about gratitude to point to, and there really wasn’t. The team realized that Gratitude isn’t the opposite or corollary of Gifting. A gift is something given freely, and gratitude is an attitude of respect for what has come before. They’re related, but not really the same… at least, not in environment without obligation (you can be grateful for a gift, but you don’t HAVE to be). So the meme of Gratitude, as the 11th principle, started over the FIGMENT NYC weekend, and it kept percolating, people kept talking about it, etc. It was sort of a joke at first, but it didn’t go away.

Then in the fall, the team working on the NYC Burning Man Decompression event ran into a snag when they couldn’t find an appropriate legal event that would be big enough for an expected 3,000 person event. They still wanted to throw a party, but it couldn’t be 100% legal, so the event they were planning couldn’t use the names “Burning Man” or “Decompression,” and they needed a new name for the event. They selected the name “Gratitude: A Village of Light” for their event in recognition of the emerging 11th Principle. It was a spectacular event, and in recognition of the origin of the name, all the profits from the event were donated to FIGMENT and the Black Rock Arts Foundation.

After that, “Gratitude” was added to the FIGMENT website as the 11th principle, and became solidly a part of the FIGMENT ethos.

Renaming the organization

On December 30, 2010, the board of Action Arts League had a conference call and decided, in recognition of the success of FIGMENT, that they should change the name of the organization to FIGMENT. The name change was accepted by the New York State Department of State on February 9, 2011. The new name of the FIGMENT 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization would be “Figment Project, Inc.” As part of this process, the organization revisited and revised its mission statement, adopting the new mission statement as follows: “FIGMENT’s mission is to build community through the participatory arts, inspiring personal and social transformation by creating cultural events and experiences in a spirit of participation and inclusion.”

In addition, the “FIGMENT Advisory Committee” was renamed the “FIGMENT Governance Council” and several new members (including Jason Turgeon and Peter Durand from Boston) were invited to join the Governance Council. The Governance Council remains the informal group that sets the broad philosophical direction for FIGMENT’s growth and development. A number of FIGMENT board members, including Rob Griffitts, Kevin Johnson, and Matt Goldberg, decided to step off the board at this time, and Debra Keneally and Jimm Meloy were invited to join the board in recognition of their contributions to FIGMENT’s success and promise of future support.

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  • published this page in FIGMENT History 2015-04-02 15:55:36 -0400