2013: ALPHA / A Whole New Event Model

Following two outstanding "firsts" for FIGMENT in 2013 with FIGMENT Geelong and FIGMENT San Diego, FIGMENT added a third "first" in April 2013 with ALPHA, a new weekend-long camping event for creators of participatory or interactive art, held at Camp Ramblewood in Darlington, Maryland. ALPHA was held from April 26ª28, 2013, and was produced by lead producer Amber Alliger, with co-producer Benjamin Jones. Jeremy Alliger, Amber's cousin and a member of the FIGMENT Boston Core Team focused on Development, served as ALPHA's Curatorial Director.

ALPHA began as a conversation between David Koren and Harry Leff, the visionary owner of Camp Ramblewood, that started after the two met at PEX Summer Festival at Ramblewood in 2010. Harry runs the camp as a place where groups can come and exhibit a level of freedom greater than they often can in their daily lives. Aside from PEX Summer Festival, a music-oriented, Burning Man-inspired event, Ramblewood hosts events that include the Maryland Faerie Festival, Men's Events, Women's Events, events for the BDSM community, retreats for school groups, etc. Harry was interested in creating an arts event at Ramblewood, and he and David started a conversation that got more intense in Summer and Fall 2012, and led David to develop a proposal for ALPHA.

The key concept of the event is experimentation. The event itself is an experiment, and everything that happens at it should be an experiment, too. This is not a place to repeat a previous project... This is the place to try something totally new. Everyone who attends ALPHA is expected to bring an art project or workshop that they are working on to ALPHA, in order to share it, refine it, get feedback, and move forward. One other experiment of ALPHA is a rudimentary alternate currency system and funding model. Each paid attendee at ALPHA receives four ALPHA tokens as part of their admission fee. Each token is worth $5, and can be given to any artist presenting work at ALPHA, to be redeemed before leaving the event.

70 participants attended ALPHA, and, together, brought nearly as many projects, filling an eight-page "What When Where" guide.

The Summer Season Begins

FIGMENT Jackson was held for the third year on May 18-19, 2013, again in the Midtown Arts District, a new arts district that receives significant attention from the city. FIGMENT Jackson Producer Whitney Grant led the production team for the third years, this time as an employee of Midtown Partners, a not-for-profit organization focused on developing the Midtown Arts District. Producing FIGMENT was now part of Whitney's job! Co-Producer Melvin Priester had to step back a bit from FIGMENT, as, during the planning process, he was engaged in running for City Council in Jackson's Ward Two. In early May, just before FIGMENT Jackson, Melvin was elected to City Council. Two years after FIGMENT's first event in Jackson, one Producer was now employed to make FIGMENT happen as part of her job, and the other was now an elected member of City Council in Jackson! In addition, FIGMENT was a partner in receiving an "Our Town" grant from the National Endowment from the Arts, and created the first FIGMENT summer-long installation program outside of New York. Six interactive sculpture projects were selected and installed around the Midtown Arts District for the FIGMENT event and the summer season.

Former FIGMENT NYC Logistics Lead Andrea Kirk took the reigns as Producer of FIGMENT NYC, and led the NYC Core Team to create another successful FIGMENT NYC event on June 8-9, 2013. Interestingly, there was no rain during the event, but New York was pounded by Tropical Storm Andrea (yes, really) on Friday, June 7, and it rained again on Monday, June 10. The overall attendance on Saturday and Sunday was 21,805 participants, who engaged with over 200 interactive art projects. The NYC Core Team faced new challenges this year, as construction on the new park on the island became more intense, and vehicle access was more limited than ever. Given the ongoing work to the island's sea wall, there was no access to the south end of the island ("Picnic Point," or, sometimes at FIGMENT, "Disorient Point"). In addition, national politics also had a significant impact on FIGMENT NYC 2013: due to inability of the House of Representatives to compromise on the budget, the US Government enacted automatic across-the-board budget cuts in March 2013, called "the sequester." Governors Island National Monument, which comprises 22 acres of the 172-acre island, decided to cut seasonal staff that approve and manage special use permits for the National Park, so FIGMENT could not place or install any projects in the National Park. This led to a much more concentrated and denser FIGMENT event, principally located on the Parade Ground, in Nolan Park, and in Colonels Row. The pavilion returned to FIGMENT in 2013, with the winner of the 2012 design competition, "Head in the Clouds" by StudioKCA, placed in the center of the Parade Ground. This pavilion was built with 53,780 milk jugs and water bottles, the average number of bottles that New York City throws away every hour. “Head in the Clouds” was later awarded the “Best of Year” award from Interior Design magazine in the installation category. In addition, Benjamin Jones' Treehouse returned for its third year, with a new extension; the minigolf course returned for its sixth year, with the theme of "State of the Art," and the interactive sculpture garden returned for its fifth year. The FIGMENT NYC Producers Brunch, held on Sunday at 11am, included attendees from FIGMENT teams in Boston, Geelong, Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and individuals interested in getting FIGMENT started in Seattle and Baltimore.

FIGMENT Boston was held for the fourth year on July 27-28, 2013, the third year on Rose Kennedy Greenway. For the first time, the FIGMENT nighttime component occurred without rain on the Greenway on Saturday night, featuring light art, illuminating interactive projects, and electronic music. Jason Turgeon announced that this would be his last year producing FIGMENT Boston, and that Anne Lodick, former Communications Director, would succeed him has the new producer. As FIGMENT had become a staple in the cultural calendar in Boston, the FIGMENT Boston leadership was now getting much more credit from the City of Boston, and access to opportunities. Jason Turgeon and Boston Core Team Member Jeremy Alliger curated a summer-long street art exhibition and events at “Barlett Yards,” an old bus maintenance depot that was about to be demolished. In addition, the Boston team was approached by the City of Boston to be a part of First Night Boston on December 31, and to curate a nighttime event on Boston Common.

There had been interest in bringing FIGMENT to Chicago for a few years, but it wasn’t until David Koren met Elysia Lock in Chicago in the summer of 2012 that the conversation began to take shape and progress started to be made toward creating FIGMENT Chicago. Elysia had been the producer of Chicago’s Decompression event, and was very interested in creating a participatory art event for the general public. A local team mobilized around Elysia, and conversations began with the Garfield Park Conservatory, a self-contained conservatory within the larger Garfield Park, which had its own fenced-in grounds. Located in West Chicago, the park is in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Chicago. A date was set for August 10-11, 2014, and the team began preparations. Cynthia Fox, a professional fundraiser, stepped up to lead the fundraising effort for the event, and under her leadership the team did an amazing job raising the funds for the event to happen using a variety of methods including a very successful direct appeal and FIGMENT’s first-ever yard sale. On the day of the event, FIGMENT received a check from B.U.R.N. (the Bold Urban Renaissance Network), the local Burning Man-affiliated not-for-profit, in support of the event. The FIGMENT Chicago team did a great job reaching out to the local community and gathering a great collection of very diverse projects, including a number of interactive performance-oriented projects. FIGMENT Chicago 2014 was the first FIGMENT event to include a fire performance program, which took place on Saturday night, August 10, after the daytime program had concluded, and was curated by Liz Campanella.

Christine Irving in Toronto had also been considering creating a FIGMENT event there for a few years. David Koren and Christine had met in 2010, just as FIGMENT was starting to expand to Boston and Jackson, and started talking about FIGMENT Toronto. It took a few years for the idea to coalesce, and for the venue that Christine really wanted, Olympic Island in Toronto harbor, to become available. With the addition of Kim Breland to the team as co-producer in early 2013, plans really started to come together, with a date set for the event of August 17-18, 2013. This was the quickest event that FIGMENT had yet put together, basically about three months from greenlighting the event to the opening. The team did a wonderful job pulling it together, but everybody felt afterward that the event could have benefited by more lead time to solicit artists. New York’s Aqua Attack team made the journey to Toronto to bring their project to the event. In addition, this was the first FIGMENT event with camping: artists and team members were able to camp out on Toronto Island overnight, with an incredible view of the Toronto skyline.

In FIGMENT DC’s second year, the event was forced to move from its first-year location at the new “The Yards” park. “The Yards,” a privately owned public space, increased the proposed rental fee for FIGMENT from $2,000 to $20,000, putting the venue completely out of reach of a community-oriented participatory arts event that is free to the public. The FIGMENT DC team decided to move to Anacostia Park, a National Park just across the river from “The Yards.” Anacostia Park became the second National Park to host FIGMENT after the Governors Island National Monument. FIGMENT DC took place on September 28-29, 2013, again produced by Patty Simonton.

FIGMENT Boston Artist Bevan Weissman moved to Philadelphia in late 2012, and David Koren met with him in New York and asked him to think about a FIGMENT event in Philadelphia, and to keep his eyes open for a producer. Bevan took this very seriously, and decided that he would be this producer, and would bring FIGMENT to Philadelphia. The first FIGMENT Philadelphia event took place on October 6, 2013, in Clark Park in West Philadelphia. Interestingly, there were a number of projects that were build-based, allowing participants to create their own reconfigurable structures using artist-created components, and there were also a lot of projects that were conversational or psychological in nature. It was a wonderful way to close the 2013 summer season.

Making Things Tighter and Brighter in the Off-Seasons

As always, in the increasingly short “off season” the FIGMENT Admin team started working on ways to improve the FIGMENT infrastructure for events in all of our cities. The team worked on improving the Salesforce-based artist management system (which had been used to recruit and manage artists for San Diego and every event thereafter, a total of eight events in 2013), and started working on new web platform based on NationBuilder, which more seamlessly integrates webhosting, email and social media communications, volunteer recruitment, and donor solicitation. The Admin Team also worked on revising and expanding the online “FIGMENT How To” manual for all local teams to use as a resource.

FIGMENT Director of Administration and Board Member Debra Keneally announced that she would be stepping down as Director of Administration and focusing on her board role. FIGMENT HR Director Kate Friedman stepped up to be the new Director of Administration.

FIGMENT Geelong Producer Miriam Fathalla worked with a local pro bono law firm to incorporate FIGMENT in Australia, as Figment Project Australia Limited, with three initial directors: Miriam, David Koren, and Luisa LaFornara. An agreement was worked about between Figment Project, Inc. (the US entity) and Figment Project Australia Limited to govern how the two entities would work together to continue to grow FIGMENT in Australia.

Fire on a Cold Night

On the night of December 31, invited by the City of Boston, FIGMENT Boston took over a large swath of Boston Common to create FIGMENT First Night. FIGMENT recruited artists to bring fire and light-based interactive projects, including fire spinning. Many thousands of revelers crowded around the FIGMENT area as “Riskeeball” (Skeeball with fire) and other fire-based projects went off in the cold night. The event was a huge success, and seems poised to provide a new annual event for the FIGMENT Boston team. Jason Turgeon and Anne Lodick produced the event together, and officially handed off the producer role from Jason to Anne at the event.