What is FIGMENT?

FIGMENT demonstrates what the arts can be: participatory, bursting with creativity and completely free, born from the desire to share imagination and invention between artists and the public.
Our vision for art looks past the white-walled galleries and into the realm of participation. Art is not just something that you stand still and quietly look at: you touch it, smell it, write on it, talk to it, dance with it, play with it, and learn from it. Interactive art creates a dynamic collaboration between the artist, the audience and their environment.
While FIGMENT may take many forms as it is created in each city and environment, there are several things that must remain consistent, including:

FIGMENT is completely free to the public
FIGMENT is a not­-for-profit endeavor
FIGMENT is volunteer-run
FIGMENT is a participatory, interactive event
FIGMENT creates an environment in which children and adults alike are invited to play
FIGMENT follows 11 principles

Why the name "FIGMENT"?

Thinking about the idea of an arts festival on the island, David Koren started to look for a name, something that could anchor the concept of the festival. David was in the shower one morning in late 2005 when the name “FIGMENT” popped into his head. David remembered that Andy Warhol had once been asked what he would like on his tombstone, and he replied, "I always thought I'd like my own tombstone to be blank. No epitaph, and no name. Well, actually, I'd like it to say 'FIGMENT'."

Famous for his role in New York's artistic heritage and the Pop Art movement, Andy Warhol believed that everyone had it in them to be a star for fifteen minutes. Through his own art, he defined his identity and shaped the world around him. By naming the arts event FIGMENT, it could reference both the great history of art in New York, and also the ephemeral nature of the arts event that was starting to be developed.

Why is FIGMENT relevant?

FIGMENT demonstrates what the arts can be: participatory, bursting with creativity and completely free, born from the desire to share imagination and invention between artists and the public.

FIGMENT is a grassroots effort, organized and run entirely by volunteers as a gift to our cities because we believe in the aspirations and mission of FIGMENT. We believe that FIGMENT addresses a number of key issues:

Problem #1: Lack of Opportunity for Emerging Artists
We aim to provide as many opportunities for emerging artists as possible, creating an inclusive and participatory alternative to the high-end gallery scene. FIGMENT invites everyone to participate, regardless of socioeconomic background, age, race, gender, or any other discriminating factor. The main goal of our curatorial process is not to limit or restrict participation by weeding out artists, but to encourage all artists to make their work as participatory in nature as possible.

Problem #2: Access to the Arts for All
One of our main priorities is to lower the barriers to entry for audiences as well as artists. While museum and theater admission is often prohibitively expensive for families, particularly in these economic times, FIGMENT is committed to producing its event and exhibitions at no charge for artists and participants. From a demographic perspective, our artists and our audience are as diverse as our cities are.

Problem #3: Passivity in Our Society
We have created a culture of spectatorship wherein people are often more comfortable watching than doing or creating. It is often noted that this hinders the development of creativity in our youth, and it also limits the building of strong communities. FIGMENT’s focus is on art that is created by a community working in collaboration, art that is created or enhanced by the input of its audience, or art that must be directly engaged with in order to be appreciated. FIGMENT intends for everyone who comes to the event be a participant, so that FIGMENT itself can be seen as one large collaborative art project. Ideally, no one is a spectator. We are all connected, and we are all creators.

Problem #4: Lack of Community among Urban Residents
For a variety of reasons, many city dwellers lack a sense of community. Many of the inhabitants of our cities are transitional; moving to the city to pursue education or a career, then relocating elsewhere as their circumstances change. FIGMENT seeks to provide a community-based experience that is open to everyone, giving even the most temporary of residents a place to belong. With an emphasis on participatory art, FIGMENT encourages connections among audiences and artists, as everyone participates as collaborators in the creative process. Participatory arts include any works of art that require the interaction of participants, bringing together artists and community members in ways that build relationships and unlock individual creativity. The result is art as dialogue, rather than monologue; this dialogue forms the basis for a collaborative, constructive community.

Problem #5: Few Places for Young Families to Go
FIGMENT engages youth and families. It attracts a large number of children and young families. Children enjoy that FIGMENT’s culture is about getting your hands dirty and working with others to create. At FIGMENT, it’s okay to touch. In fact, it’s encouraged. Part of the FIGMENT ethos is that education comes from engagement. At the same time, FIGMENT is not a “just for kids” environment. We often hear adults comment that they “feel like kids” at FIGMENT: given an opportunity, even adults are able to play, have fun, and look at the world with fresh eyes.

Problem #6: Identifying New Uses for Underutilized Public Space
FIGMENT was originally created specifically for New York City’s Governors Island. Since the City acquired Governors Island from the Coast Guard in 2003, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC) has been engaged in a public process to imagine a future for the island that is economically sustainable and that serves the community. As there are no residents of the island, it essentially belongs to all of us. What better way to create a new vision for the island than through art projects that invite everyone to participate and that build community in the process? We hope to apply this approach to other underutilized public assets that are in need of exploration and revitalization.

Problem #7: Oversaturation of Branding and Commercialism
We strive to create a culture free from buying, selling, and advertising. So often, our experiences in today?s world are mediated by ads, logos, and sales pitches. FIGMENT accepts no corporate sponsorship whatsoever. At FIGMENT, a logo should never interfere with your personal experience: here, your experience is not for sale.

Problem #8: Living in a Time of Scarcity
At FIGMENT, you don’t need currency to be rich: FIGMENT invites people to discover what’s really important. Indeed, at a time when so many people are struggling to get by, we are proud to celebrate an abundance of inspiration. Despite the scarcity all around us, there is no shortage of creativity, innovation, and passion. FIGMENT provides a place where people can bring the plentiful gifts that they have to offer, and share the wealth.

Why do we make FIGMENT happen? Why do people come? Why do artists join?

Above all else, the answer is that it is FUN. Here are a few other motivations:

  • Opportunities for emerging artists to show their work, build community among different artists/types of artists
  • Access to the arts for everyone, with no costs or stigma about going into museums
  • Participation, building an expectation that people should not be spectators, should not wait around to be entertained
  • Build community among urban residents
  • A place for young families to go, and opportunities for children
  • New uses for underutilized public (or private) space (depending on your city and circumstances)
  • Create a culture free from branding, commercialism, buying, selling… show people that these things are not essential for a good time
  • Demonstrate and celebrate the abundance of creativity, passion, community – which are all free and abundant and unaffected by economics

Who runs FIGMENT?

FIGMENT is run through the FIGMENT Project 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. FIGMENT has a fairly unique management structure. Here are some of the roles that are played at FIGMENT at a global level.

Board of Directors – As a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, FIGMENT Project has a Board of Directors who meet a few times a year about overarching legal and financial issues. The Board of Directors includes several main FIGMENT “staff” as well as several co-founders and others who can contribute at a high-leadership level.
Governance Council – In addition to having a Board of Directors, the not-for-profit organization (FIGMENT Project) has a Governance Council that includes a variety of FIGMENT leaders and founders. The Governance Council meets a few times each year as an advisory body.
Global Administration – The Administration (or Admin) team is a leadership group within the FIGMENT team that deals with administrative and management tasks as they relate to all FIGMENTs in different cities. This includes managing the start-up of new cities, dealing with the website and marketing materials, and financial and legal issues.

On a city-by-city level, we refer to the following groups of people:

Core Team – In cities with a smaller event/team, everyone on the team is highly involved and knows each other. As the event grows (for example, in NYC’s case), each team may be led by an individual (ex: Curatorial, Production, Communications). Those team leaders can meet more frequently to make sure that internal communication is clear; we refer to that group as the Core Team. While most core team members lead their own teams, core team may include key individuals who fly solo. Additionally, other team members may be invited to join Core Team meetings on an as-needed basis. The Core Team is typically led by a single Lead Producer.
Staff – FIGMENT is run by an entirely volunteer “staff.” We refer to all people who are on the organization chart for any FIGMENT event as “staff”; that is to say anyone who has a job, role, or is “responsible” for something. NYC has upwards of 100 “staff,” while cities that are creating events for the first time may have a dozen. Most staff roles involve a time commitment during the months leading up to the event.
Volunteers – We use the term “volunteers” to refer to shift-specific volunteers; these are people who may be able to help out at the event or during set-up or breakdown, or people who you can ask for assistance on particular projects. These people are not responsible for having a set role in a long-term sense but may have a role for a few hours or a day.
Artists – FIGMENT artists are sometimes the most recognized people at FIGMENT and often get a huge amount of the public recognition for FIGMENT. Always remember to thank your artists (profusely!) – they are giving freely of their time, talents, and materials/equipment.
Artist Helpers – One thing that can be very confusing is that many artists will bring their own crew of people to help set up their projects. When an artist’s own crew checks in, that crew of people may simply say they are “volunteers;” you may want to confirm whether they already have a project they are volunteering with. We try to make sure that all artists are self-sufficient for their own set-up and breakdown, although we recognize that we often need to direct day-of event volunteers to help artists.
Participants – Unlike most other similar events, we want to include those who attend the event in the list of people who “create” FIGMENT. Simply by participating, people are helping to create their own FIGMENT experience as well as experiences for everyone else. People cannot, should not, come to FIGMENT and expect to be entertained (those are “spectators,” which is just a bad word), but they should come expecting to create, develop, enjoy, entertain, celebrate… participate.

Where can I find photos and videos?

You can view an archive of some great FIGMENT videos via our YouTube feed here and photos via our curated Flickr photo gallery here. If you are looking for FIGMENT photos and other videos to use for promotional reasons, check in with the photo archiving effort being done through the Administration team: [email protected].

What is FIGMENT's Mission Statement?

FIGMENT is run through the FIGMENT Project 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. While our events and cities may all be different, all FIGMENT activities aim toward our mission. Our mission is to create participatory and inclusive cultural events and experiences that build community and inspire personal and social transformation. Our organization's mission statement is 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." 

How did FIGMENT start?

FIGMENT began in July 2007 as a free, one-­day participatory arts event on Governors Island in New York Harbor with over 2,600 participants. FIGMENT was founded by David Koren, who quickly built a network of collaborators. From that early beginning, we have been expanding in new and exciting ways each year.
In 2008, we added a season-­long City of Dreams Minigolf Course on Governors Island as well as a season-­long exhibition of interactive art and performance in a building on Governors Island. For the 2008 event, over 200 arts projects were proposed and mapped, over 10,000 participants joined us, and several press outlets wrote about FIGMENT, including another weekend article in The New York Times, as well as pieces in Time Out New York, Gothamist, the New York Post, and the Village Voice.
In 2010 we started expanding FIGMENT to other cities in the US and beyond; we keep growing and expanding to this day. For a full FIGMENT History, click here.

What are the 11 principles of FIGMENT?

Drawing inspiration from other community-­based arts events, the development, production, and experience of FIGMENT are guided by these 11 principles:

1. Participation: Transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play.

2. Decommodification: FIGMENT seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We will not substitute consumption for experience.

3. Inclusion: Anyone may be a part of FIGMENT; no prerequisites exist for participation except willingness to work and play. We welcome and respect the stranger.

4. Self-Expression: Each individual and collaborating group has unique qualities, and through self-expression can offer a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of others.

5. Self­-Reliance: FIGMENT encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.

6. Giving: FIGMENT is devoted to acts of gift giving and volunteering. FIGMENT itself is a gift from volunteer artists and event staff, who hope that each participant brings an attitude of giving. Giving does not imply a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

7. Communal Effort: We seek to create an environment ripe for each individual to achieve personal artistic transformation, but the creation of such an environment can be done only through creative cooperation and collaboration.

8. Civic Responsibility: Each participant in FIGMENT is responsible for creating a civil environment for all other participants. We endeavor to produce this event in a way that fosters a civil society and that is socially responsible.

9. Leave No Trace: We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves to leave each place in a better state than we found it.

10. Immediacy: Too often the limit for creative expression is the barrier between our inner selves and the selves that we present to the world. By breaking down that barrier, we can gain a profound appreciation for the opportunities that lie in each time and place.

11. Gratitude: We believe it is important to remind ourselves where we come from, and to appreciate what has been given to us to get us to where we are. We are not entitled to anything, and approach our relations to others from a place of gratitude for their efforts.

What's the difference between spectators and participants?

People who come to FIGMENT are not 'attendees,' 'visitors,' or 'spectators;' but they are participants. In every possible way, we try to emphasize that people should not expect to sit back and be entertained. In our society, we have largely created a culture of spectatorship wherein people are often more comfortable watching than doing or creating. It is often noted that this culture hinders the development of creativity in our youth, and it also limits the building of strong communities.
FIGMENT’s focus is on:

  • Art that is created by a community working in collaboration
  • Art that is created or enhanced by the input of its audience, or
  • Art that must be directly engaged with in order to be appreciated.

FIGMENT intends for everyone who comes to the event to be a participant: FIGMENT itself can be seen as one large collaborative art project.
Participants are all expected to bring something to share—but it doesn't matter if they bring a large-scale sculpture or an open mind. Here, no one is a spectator. We are all connected, and we are all creators.

What kind of art will I find at FIGMENT?

FIGMENT is open to all art and all artistic mediums—from opera to decorating cookies (and both have been at FIGMENT before). Art can include performance, street theater, costuming, sculpture, inflatable art, dance, performance art, installations, social experiments, mobile art, workshops, games, community building projects, arts & crafts, sound art, bands & DJs, lectures & seminars on themes of participatory art & culture, and anything else you can imagine!
We invite *everyone* to bring their art. Please do remember that FIGMENT is an event for everyone when deciding on subject matter for your project (while material can be adult-oriented, it should not be child-inappropriate). Also keep in mind that while some forms of art (ex: bands & DJs) are not participatory, we encourage everyone at FIGMENT to figure out a way to make the experience more interactive.

What is Participatory Art?

Among FIGMENT's aims are to take art out of museums and galleries, invite the public to engage with art, break down the walls between performer and spectator. Or, as a July 2012 article in the BBC Travel section says, "While there are a couple of sculptures not meant for climbing, 'no touching' signs are not to be seen. Everything is meant to be played with. If FIGMENT were a country, it would be the happiest in the world – and I would apply for citizenship immediately."

FIGMENT creates free, volunteer-driven participatory art events that bring together the community in a celebration of art and a culture where everything is possible! FIGMENT seeks to broaden the definition of art, break down the wall between artist and spectator, and encourage everyone to participate.

At each event, the public is invited to play with art that temporarily transforms public spaces into wildly creative places that disappear without a trace.

FIGMENT celebrates an abundance of creativity and passion, challenging artists and our communities to find new ways to create, share, think, and dream.

Can I buy or sell anything at FIGMENT?

No. FIGMENT is uninterrupted by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. Selling or advertising goods or services is not permitted. Neither our artists nor our planners and staff are paid: Everything at FIGMENT is born from a simple desire to share imagination with each other and the public.

FIGMENT is an entirely free and non-commercial event in which everyone volunteers their time and effort to participate… the organizers, the artists, the participants. Interactions between people are not mediated by commercial transactions of any kind. Everything at FIGMENT is free, and there is no advertising, nothing for sale, and no one insisting that you have to give a donation to participate.

As the Boston team states it: "This event is completely free to the public and yet non-commercial, independently produced by volunteer staff and artists. FIGMENT is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization entirely funded by individual donations and grants. FIGMENT accepts no corporate sponsorship of any kind."

While FIGMENT does not support any commerce at all at our events and exhibitions, there are often other vendors who may be on site at a venue that we may be using, or who may be nearby.

Giving away food and drinks, where permitted by law, is encouraged at FIGMENT. However, no food or drinks may be given away for promotional purposes at FIGMENT. For example, no snack food manufacturers may give out branded samples.

Is FIGMENT a festival?

We don't typically use the word 'festival' for our events in the USA because there, it often has connotations of performers and spectators and things 'for sale.' That's why we use words like event, experience, project, celebration, large-scale collaborative art piece.

What is FIGMENT's connection with Burning Man?

FIGMENT is NOT officially connected to Burning Man. That said, many of our founders and organizers are participants in the annual Burning Man event, and FIGMENT was in part inspired by the participatory art and volunteer-driven spirit of Burning Man. Additionally, we adhere to the 10 principles of Burning Man (plus one 11 Principle: Gratitude). We seek to build a healthy partnering relationship with Burning Man, Black Rock City LLC, and the Black Rock Arts Foundation, and have a long history with all of these entities. Inspired and influenced by the arts environment in New York as well as by Burning Man (an annual arts event in Nevada), the founders of FIGMENT seek to create a forum in which everyone is welcome to participate and make art – regardless of training, credentials, funding or even the medium in which he chooses to work. As people create collaborative artwork, express themselves and work together to give a form to their dreams, a community grows around the event.

How does FIGMENT engage the (local) community?

FIGMENT focuses primarily on participatory art, art that builds community through sharing, and gets people to interact with one another, talk to each other, create and share experiences together. By participating, we are building important connections and weaving the social fabric that creates community.

FIGMENT was started in New York in 2007 and has expanded to include cities both in the U.S. and abroad. FIGMENT is an event that can happen anywhere people are inspired to bring it! FIGMENT continues to expand its mission to offer free, family-friendly and participatory art to entire communities, removing the barriers of museum and gallery walls and entrance fees, blurring the lines between those who create and those who enjoy art.

Is FIGMENT really free?

Yes, FIGMENT is 100% free for everyone to participate and enjoy. We run entirely on donations, and we welcome any contribution you are able to make.

How is FIGMENT sustainable?

Leave No Trace is one of FIGMENT’s 11 core principles—and it is an important element of the FIGMENT attitude. Just as when children are asked to put away their toys when they are done playing, FIGMENT artists and participants are asked to help clean up after themselves. One of our goals is urban revitalization—and leaving an area cleaner than when we found it directly contributes to that goal.

We leave no trace by cleaning up after ourselves and we leave the space better than we found it. We are not a drain on municipal resources but rather positively contribute to the cities public spaces. By cleaning up after ourselves, we show our community, the public, public officials, and ourselves that we value our city, our space, and our art.

Can FIGMENT have Government Partnerships?

Partnering with local government agencies can be very helpful to FIGMENT events in several ways. It is a way to gain community support, act as a bolster when applying for funding from various sources, help access to local government resources/connections, and also to assist with FIGMENT venues (in particular when the venue is a public area).
In various cities, FIGMENT has partnered informally and formally with a variety of government entities including those representing public spaces and arts.

Contact David Koren ([email protected]) if you have any questions or want to partner with FIGMENT.

How can I be part of FIGMENT?

You can be part of FIGMENT as a participant—by joining us at any of our events across the US and beyond.

You can be part of FIGMENT as a registered artist at one of our events; check your city’s web and Facebook page for opportunities to submit a project!

You can be part of FIGMENT by hands-on volunteering your time during one of our events, or by being part of a city’s year-round core team of volunteers.

You can take pictures or video at our events and share them with us ([email protected]) so we can use them to promote our events.

You can spread the news about FIGMENT by sharing our posts, blogging or writing about our events, or by making a donation.

Interested in organizing a FIGMENT in your city? See here for more information, and connect with us! 

Does FIGMENT take sponsorship?

FIGMENT does not take corporate sponsorship or offer any opportunities for advertising or promotion. We do accept donations and grants, however. If you want to make a donation to help make FIGMENT happen, click here. If you want to discuss grant possibilities or have any leads on new art grants, please contact us at [email protected].

How can I be a vendor at FIGMENT?

FIGMENT has no vendors. There is nothing for sale at FIGMENT.

Who pays for FIGMENT?

Given that FIGMENT is created by volunteers, it does not take a lot of money to put on a FIGMENT event. Our funding comes from a combination of individual donations and grants from government agencies and private foundations. We do not accept any corporate sponsorship or advertising. FIGMENT is funded by you. If you want to make a donation to help make FIGMENT happen, click here.

Why doesn't FIGMENT pay artists?

We believe that everyone is creative, and that everyone has the capacity to create and share art. We want our FIGMENT events to be a platform in which everyone is welcome and encouraged to bring and share their artwork.
Our FIGMENT events are created with very little money changing hands: the events are created by volunteers, working with artists who contribute their work for free; all the art at our events is offered for free to the general public.
We do create special opportunities, where we can, for carefully selected artists (usually curated by a jury) to receive funding and compensation for their work, such as our summer-long sculpture and minigolf programs in New York City. But we want to make sure that any compensation received serves to increase, rather than decrease, participation in our programs.
If you, as an artist, are at a point where you must be compensated for your work, perhaps FIGMENT isn't the right venue for you to show your work, or perhaps it's a place where you could consider showing something new and risky, something you're trying out, something that you haven't tried before.

Does FIGMENT have paid staff?

FIGMENT is created by volunteers in all of our cities. We do have two paid, full-time people on staff, however. These two staff members work to assist our volunteer teams and keep the FIGMENT organization running.
Emma Tuccillo is our Global Community Manager. She provides support and training to our local FIGMENT teams in how to use our shared software platforms and how to access information and expertise from other FIGMENT teams.
Sara Muskulus is our Global Business Manager. She works with local teams on issues related to budgeting, finance, insurance, legal issues, and other issues that help to keep the business side of FIGMENT running smoothly.
Other than Emma and Sara, we're all volunteers, from our Executive Producer and Board of Directors to every single person who puts on a FIGMENT shirt at a local event.