Interview with Breda Kennedy / Executive Director of the Dumbo Arts Center
CEV: Breda, first of all, thanks for taking the time to talk with Art and Culture, I know you're in full gear preparing for the opening of the festival on the 25th. Could you talk a bit about your background and the genesis of this great event?
BK: Thanks Chris. I came on board in August 2006, just before the 10th festival was about to begin. The previous director (and Founder, along with Rodney Trice, Margaret Champagne, Tyson Daugherty, and others), Joy Glidden, had just resigned and so it was a sink or swim situation for me. I had previously been the program manager at ISCP so had a lot of experience working with artists but not as much working at the community level and had certainly never produced an event of this scale before. The festival had started ten years before in 1997. At that time, there were thousands of artists making art and thereby doing what artists do to blighted neighborhoods - they improve them. The festival was a guerrilla adventure with live performances, open studios and music throughout the neighborhood. Today, although the population of artists living and working in Dumbo has drastically diminished because they can no longer afford to be here, the neighborhood remains vibrant through the cluster of arts non-profits and the stimulus of young artists who participate in visual arts residencies e.g. Smack Mellon, the Marie Sharp Walsh Foundation and Triangle. This year, we'll have 77 open studios and over 80 artist projects.
CEV: The term 'public art' is oftentimes a pejorative, connoting a kind of watered-down, consensus driven, politically-correct expression. That doesn't seem to be the case here at all.
BK: No, this is public art presented in a different way. First, it's temporary so doesn't go through the same type of consensus building you reference. It is dynamic, risk-taking and unpredictable and happens in every sort of site imaginable - the waterfront, in the streets, in store fronts and gallery spaces. It's really quite amazing. We do however, go through a process. Every proposal is carefully considered - we received nearly 300 applications this year. We go through a dialogue with the artist during a two month review process and then work with landlords, businesses, the Departments of Transportation and Parks, among others, to determine the best fit. Local business has been incredibly supportive; the festival brings over 100,000 visitors to the neighborhood. In addition to the artist projects, open studios and performances, Caspar Stracke and Gabriella Monroy have curated a video festival with 50 video artists.
CEV: How much influence do outside people have on the curatorial process and do you, internally, seek out a particular thematic thread for the projects that are included?
BK: We do not approach the projects with a particular bias in mind however, our objective is to give artists total freedom in an urban space for this one weekend and so the projects do tend to reflect the moment. For example, for the 12th Festival, there were projects that dealt with the elections and the political climate of the day.
CEV: So do you see a 'recessional aesthetic' emerging at this year's festival?
BK: There are projects that deal with the current economic climate. Ryan Rhodes, for example, has created a performance that features an untamed businessman werewolf-like creature. The environment is also very topical. John Monteith is doing a street installation of oyster shells that recalls their use as an industrial material while celebrating their current deployment to clean up the environment. There is an incredible range of projects here reflecting the diversity of artistic practice in Brooklyn and around the city. this is not a biennial, it is not cube art. We are attempting to create an oasis where anything can happen. I think that is very very important to preserve here in New York.
CEV: We totally agree. Thanks for taking the time Breda and congratulations on building a fantastic showcase for artistic innovation.
Dumbo Art Center is the sponsor of the "Art Under the Bridge Festival" taking place in Brooklyn from September 25 through Sunday Septemer 27th. For more information including details on festival artists. Please visit: http://www.artandculture.com/venues/172-dumbo-arts-center/events/101
Here are some images from past and current year's festival, underscoring the diversity of artistic practice presented. Don't Miss It!
Detail from "My Sweet Home" by Nung-Hsin Hu (click to read artist's profile)
"Public Feeding'' by Cat Del Buono
"The Cardboard Gallery" by Marta Gazicka
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