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DUMBO Arts Festival calls it quits after 18 years

Howard Halle

Yesterday, the organizers of the annual DUMBO Arts Festival (Festival Director Lisa Kim and Executive Producer Frank Riley) put out a statement saying that the DUMBO Arts Festival—a familiar fall ritual for the cobble-stoned neighborhood of rambling loft buildings between two of New York's iconic bridges—is no more. The culprit? It's own popularity.

According to Kim and Riley, last year's weekend event drew an astounding 220,000 visitors, putting a strain on their ability to mount the Festival "without commercializing it in a way that didn't feel right." They went on to say that the proceedings had wandered too far from the original mission of promoting DUMBO as an artist's neighborhood, and it certainly didn't help that it's been a long while since artists actually lived and worked in the area in significant numbers. As in so many parts of the Five Boroughs, artists made DUMBO safe for rich people, and were then moved out with nary a thank you, let alone equity. In the past couple of years, the Festival has arguably transformed from a celebration of the artist community to a last vestige of it.

Things were different in 1997 when event premiered as Art Under the Bridge Festival. It was begun by DUMBO residents Joy Glidden and Tyson Daugherty, but its sponsor has always been Two Trees Development, the prime engine of the former industrial warehouse district's march towards gentrification. Glidden went on to start the DUMBO Arts Center, which spearheaded the Festival until 2009, when it dropped out. Two Trees then stepped in as the principal organizer over the next five years, with great success considering the growth in attendance. It's also fair to say that the opening of Brooklyn Bridge Park and Jane's Carousel—both tourist magnets—helped to hasten the Festival's demise.

The departure of the DUMBO Arts Festival comes on the heels of Galapagos Art Space's decision to flee Brooklyn for the cheaper precincts of Detroit, which has also been attracting artists by the score (so much so, that in a few years, the Motor City may also suffer DUMBO's current fate). Meanwhile, Kim and Riley will attempt to "keep DUMBO an arts destination year round." But as their announcement indicates, it's probably too late for that.


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