New Museum and Partners Announce ‘Festival of Ideas for the New City’

Where can you attend a conference keynoted by architect Rem Koolhaas, sample locally brewed kombucha under a colorful canopy, take a flashlight tour of metal plates engraved by Italian masters, see Chinatown by bike, check out a new mural by Mary Heilmann, and leave with a rooftop garden ready for planting? The Festival of Ideas for the New City, a collaborative initiative announced today by the New Museum of Contemporary Art and the hundreds of downtown New York organizations that have signed on to participate.

“Three years ago, when we moved to the Bowery, we witnessed a dramatic transformation of this neighborhood,” said New Museum director Lisa Phillips at a press briefing held this morning at the institution’s SANAA-designed home (which somehow manages to look even cooler beneath a steady drizzle). Conversations between Museum staffers and neighboring organizations including the Architectural League, the Cooper Union, the Drawing Center, and Storefront for Art and Architecture soon developed into the two-year planning process for a festival that would, according to Phillips, “harness the power of the creative community to reimagine the city.”

Artists, writers, architects, engineers, designers, urban farmers, and the public are invited to take part in the free festival, which will run from May 4 through May 8 in locations around downtown Manhattan. Things kick off with a three-day slate of symposia, lectures, and workshops exploring “big ideas that change the course of a city.” In addition to Koolhaas, the organizers have secured computer scientist Jaron Lanier and Antanas Mockus, a former mayor of Bogotá, Columbia, to give keynote addresses. Other panelists include architect Elizabeth Diller, Urban Genome Project founder Pedro Reyes, and Pennsylvania politician John Fetterman, who was recently dubbed “Mayor of Rust” by The New York Times Magazine. “Interestingly enough, he’ll be driving here, which I think is kind of great,” said New Museum curator Richard Flood at today’s press briefing.

Save Saturday, May 7 for the “innovative, minimal-waste” outdoor StreetFest, which will take place along the Bowery. “This is not a street fair for tube socks and sandwiches,” said Bob Holman, founder of the Bowery Potery Club. Expect local organizations presenting their wares, urban farmers offering cooking demos beneath innovative tented modules, exciting eats, and “outdoor living rooms.” Finally, the entire weekend will be a showcase for approximately 100 independent projects, exhibitions, and performances all over downtown. A few that caught our eye: the Art Production Fund, in partnership with Sotheby’s, will brighten up the dingy rolling gates of local businesses with murals by the likes of Glenn Ligon and Lawrence Weiner, artist Paul Villinski will welcome visitors to his Gulfstream trailer-turned-solar-powered mobile art studio, and Mott Street’s Church of the Transfiguration will host an all-night Pecha Kucha with a creative urban theme. Holman summed it up nicely: “It sounds like a party to me.”