Race across the city: Art in Odd Places festival returns to New York’s 14th Street

The 2016 edition of the open-air event will look at issues of race through performances, installation and film projections

“You don’t need a door”: this is how Ed Woodham, the founder and director of the grassroots public art non-profit Art in Odd Places, defines “public art”, explains Elissa Moorhead, a co-curator of the ninth edition of the eponymous festival. The door-less event takes place this week (6-9 October) in New York along 14th Street, from Avenue C in the East Village all the way west to the Hudson River. The 2016 theme is Race—not only an extremely timely topic, but also relevant to the festival’s setting, in particular, its crossing of Union Square. “It’s a site where there were lots of residents that were black and brown, and they’re not there now,” Moorhead says. “It’s a super interesting place to investigate the idea of race literally, and the idea of the race of a city, the fast-changing demographics.”

The festival features more than 30 works, including performance pieces, installations and film projections. Some are stationary, such as Eric Olson’s bubble machine Imagine, a reference to “How many bubbles in a bar of soap?” a Jim Crow-era question designed to block minorities from voting. Others are more mobile, like the performance In Interactive Median Income Dress Acting As a Social Interface, in which the artist Dominique Paul will walk across 14th Street wearing a dress with coloured lights that change based on the income levels of the different blocks.

“There’s a bunch of projects that actually require participation, and so we’re hoping that people will take a leap and become part of Art in Odd Places,” says Rylee Eterenginoso, another of the four co-curators of the 2016 edition. She says she’s looking forward to Kenya Robinson’s ongoing project, WHITEMANINMYPOCKET(S), in which people are meant to take small figurines of “Dave Fowler”, a fictional white man with a backstory, and trace his whereabouts online using the hashtag #WHITEMANINMYPOCKET. Moorhead calls the piece “a reminder of perception and how its power can be manipulated”. The Gainesville, Florida-raised artist “plays with humour,” she says, “and she uses it to get to what’s deeper… It makes things more accessible—but it’s not any less biting.”