2011: Going to Jackson and Detroit / Recognition

Meanwhile, a young architect working for the Jackson Community Design Center (JCDC) in Jackson, Mississippi, Whitney Grant, had heard about FIGMENT through the City of Dreams Pavilion Design Competition. She thought that FIGMENT could work well in Jackson, and specifically could be a great way to kick-start a project that she was working on through JCDC, the revitalization of the Old Coca-Cola Bottling Plant on Highway 80 in Jackson, which had just been purchased, after sitting vacant for more than 12 years, by Gil Sidi, a developer living primarily in New York City and Tel Aviv. Whitney talked to Gil about FIGMENT, and suggested that Gil meet with somebody from FIGMENT when he was next in New York. Gil and David first met in spring 2010, and talked about the possibilities for bringing FIGMENT to Jackson, and specifically to Gil’s property.

David was originally skeptical of FIGMENT’s involvement in the Old Coca-Cola Plant: FIGMENT had longstanding reservations to getting involved with any commercial venture whatsoever. It had been the conviction of many of the FIGMENT founders and Governance Council members that as soon as a profit motive is part of the equation, that participation becomes compromised in some way. But despite David’s initial skepticism, Gil saw that FIGMENT was the right sort of event for Jackson, and the Old Coca-Cola Plant. Gil asked David what the next steps were. David suggested that, when Gil was ready, he should fly David to Jackson, and that they should have a public meeting to stir up interest (as David had just done in Boston) and that they should meet with as many local officials, potential funders, and potential partners as possible.

Six months passed, with infrequent contact between Gil, Whitney, and David. Finally, in October 2010, Gil wrote to David and said, “It’s time. Let’s plan a visit.” David made a three-day trip to Jackson in early November 2010. Gil and his assistant, Lawrence Zhou, led him on a whirlwind tour of Jackson, meeting with the Mayor’s Office, the Greater Jackson Arts Council, the Jackson Department of Cultural and Human Services, and a number of local museums and community groups. Whitney Grant coordinated a public meeting at the North Midtown Arts Center, where the FIGMENT Jackson team began to coalesce.

By the time David left Jackson, they had a promise of funding from the Greater Jackson Arts Council, a firm commitment from Gil for the property, and team leadership from Whitney Grant and Melvin Priester, the only member of the FIGMENT Jackson team who had been to Burning Man. Other key team members included Kimberly Jacobs, Abigail Susik, Robert Mann, Leslee Foukal, Ward Schaefer, Rachel Jarman, and Melvin and Monique Davis. It seemed that FIGMENT Jackson was a go.

A key inflection point for planning FIGMENT Jackson took place in late January 2011, when the Jackson Free Press’s Best of Jackson Event was held at the Old Cola Plant. The main building of the plant was filled with 1,500 people who enjoyed entertainment, the “Best of Jackson” awards, and food and drink from Jackson’s best bars and restaurants. The FIGMENT team painted a huge “FIGMENT Jackson: What are you bringing?” sign on a wall in a Jackson Pollack style that became the main backdrop for event photos throughout the evening. The team also created small FIGMENT Jackson stickers that they gave to every person who attended the event, and they solicited volunteers for FIGMENT.

FIGMENT Jackson began with a press conference on Friday, May 13, with Mayor Harvey Johnson, Jr., members of the City Council, and representatives of the local press. The event featured over 40 participatory arts projects that filled the 12-acre property and much of the 140,000-sf of indoor space, including a number of large-scale sculptures and participatory performance projects. Over the weekend of May 14-15, over 1,250 participants visited the Old Cola Plant to engage with the art and each other, including the mayor, who visited the FIGMENT site again on Saturday. For a city of approximately 180,000 residents, this represents a substantial number of people, probably the greatest impact as a percentage of local population that FIGMENT has yet had anywhere.

FIGMENT Jackson was the first FIGMENT of event of 2011, the first FIGMENT event in the South, and the first FIGMENT event with a distinct nighttime component, on Saturday night. We learned that a different crowd tends to come out at night than during the day, and that completely different projects tend to work well at night.

Team members from New York and Boston came to Jackson for the event: David Koren, Debra Keneally, Julie Ziff Sint, Tracy Gillan, and Gonzo.

On to Summer 2011

As the preparations intensified for FIGMENT’s summer events, the fundraising team noticed that foundation grants seemed to getting harder and harder to secure. It seemed like, hurt by the recession, many arts-oriented foundations were giving only to organizations they had previously supported, and were not considering funding from new organizations. The FIGMENT fundraising team intensified their efforts around soliciting donations from individual donors, and started looking for more opportunities to raise funds from community efforts like the Gratitude event and the NoLita Mardi Gras event that Wylie Stecklow had organized for several years. In 2011, FIGMENT also received contributions from the Burning Man Decompression events in Boston and New York City, and the Burning Man Regional camping event in New England, Firefly.

The Groundbreaking fundraiser in New York City was more successful than ever in its third year, raising approximately $10,000 under the leadership of Anna Martin and Sheila Garson. The event took place at 320 Studios in New York City, and received a proclamation from New York State Senator Daniel Squadron.

FIGMENT Boston identified a new location for its event: Rose Kennedy Greenway, the new ribbon-shaped park in the financial district, created when the flyovers were taken down following the completion of the Big Dig. Jason Turgeon began a partnership with the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy. FIGMENT Boston doubled in duration to a two-day event in its second year, on June 4-5, 2011. Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston issued a proclamation that named June 4, 2011, as “FIGMENT Boston Day” in the City of Boston. The event featured nearly 100 participatory arts projects that were enjoyed by approximately 5,000 participants.
Despite some challenging weather, the FIGMENT NYC event welcomed nearly 20,000 participants and 400 arts projects. The event was kicked off on Friday, June 10, with a press conference featuring New York State Senator Daniel Squadron, who read a haiku he had written for the occasion. Leslie Koch, the President of the Trust for Governors Island, and David Koren also spoke. After the press conference, Daniel Squadron and David Koren played a few holes of minigolf, and then the entourage rode back to the ferry on the Electric Bubble Bus.

Following the model of the 2010 City of Dreams Pavilion Competition, FIGMENT worked again with ENYA and SEAoNY to issue a call for proposals for the 2011 pavilion. Approximately 100 proposals were received, and were reviewed by our invited jury: Yolande Daniels, Principal, Studio SUMO; Vanessa Kassabian, AIA, LEED AP, Design Director, Snohetta; Jing Liu, Principal, SO-IL; Milton Puryear, Co-Founder of Brooklyn Greenway Initiative; Ada Tolla, Int’l Assoc. AIA; Robert Otani, PE, LEED AP,Vice President, Thornton Tomasetti; Kristin Marting, Artistic Director, HERE. The jury narrowed the field down to five finalists, and asked them to revise their proposals based on jury feedback. After meeting one more time to review the resubmissions, the jury selected Bittertang’s Burble Bup submission as the winning entry. Project Manager Rocket Osborne worked with the Bittertang team to supervise the nearly 150 volunteers who worked to build and install the project. Team members Michael Loverich and Antonio Torres spent a great deal of time on the island over the summer making sure that the Burble Bup stayed inflated and looked great throughout the season. (Burble Bup is here:http://newyork.figmentproject.org/long-term-exhibitions/2011-city-of-dreams-pavilion/the-2011-city-of-dreams-pavilion-burble-bup/.)

The FIGMENT minigolf course, under the leadership of Jacquelyn Strycker, returned for its fourth year, and the FIGMENT sculpture garden, under the leadership of Jen Upchurch, returned for its third year.

FIGMENT NYC received press attention in 2011 from a number of publications and media outlets that haven’t really covered FIGMENT in the past, including the New Yorker, WNYC, WCBS, Bloomberg, and the Huffington Post. The press attention culminated with FIGMENT being named the Best Art Festival in New York by the Village Voice.

FIGMENT’s next island: Detroit

Danielle “Doxie” Kaltz is a Detroit native, homeless advocate, Burning Man Regional Contact for Michigan, and a local leader of Burners without Borders. She and David had met through the Burning Man network over the years, and Doxie had always wanted to create a “Detroit Diaspora” event that would bring artists who were from Detroit, but had moved away, back to Detroit. As she learned about FIGMENT and saw how it was working in other cities, she realized that this could be the model that she was looking for. Doxie’s favorite place in Detroit is Belle Isle, a 1000-acre island in the Detroit River designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who also designed Central Park and Prospect Park in New York.

When Doxie asked David how they could create a FIGMENT event in Detroit, he told her what had worked in Boston and Jackson: let’s plan a visit, have a public meeting, and meet with key government stakeholders. Doxie got an introduction to the parks department officials who were responsible for Belle Isle, and set up a meeting for February 25, 2011. David flew out to Detroit, Doxie picked him up at the airport, and they drove straight to the meeting. David started his presentation, and within 20 slides or so, Keith Flournoy, the Park Manager, stopped him and said, “This is great. So when do you guys want to do this?” Neither Doxie or David were ready for the question. “2012 sometime?” they hazarded. But Keith was thinking sooner: “That’s too long. Let’s do something this year.” So they scheduled a one-day event on August 6, 2011, with the idea to expand the event in 2012.

At the public meeting the following night, Doxie and David were thrilled with the turnout, as around 50 people were there to hear about FIGMENT. David was delighted to meet John Law for the first time. Law, one of the early leaders of Burning Man who last attended in 1996, had purchased property in Detroit and was splitting his time between Detroit and San Francisco.

Doxie assembled her team and got a call for art out. FIGMENT Detroit came together nicely as a one-day event in a small portion of Belle Isle. The event featured approximately 30 participatory arts projects, including Ryan C. Doyle’s Regurgitator, a pulse jet engine-powered carousel for one rider. The event was attended by approximately 1,000 participants over the course of the day. David Koren, Wylie Stecklow, and Debra Keneally made the trip out from New York for the event.

As the 2011 season drew to a close, a number of new honors were granted to FIGMENT. At the annual Burning Man event in Nevada, the first ever TEDx Black Rock City conference was held, and David Koren and Jim Glaser were both invited to speak, as well as FIGMENT artist Kate Raudenbush. FIGMENT was named the Best Art Festival in New York by the Village Voice, and the FIGMENT brand won a “Making the Case” award from the AIGA. FIGMENT also, for the first time ever, was awarded funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

In recognition of all the progress that FIGMENT had made in 2011, the team decided to create our first-ever FIGMENT Annual Report to communicate what we’ve accomplished to our supporters, grantors, partners, and others in the FIGMENT community.