If you’ve ever wanted to play dress-up as a 2D paper doll or strum a waving sheet of bells with a hyper-direction microphone, take to gnome-riddled mini golf greens illuminated by a UV light, or create your own life-sized robot superhero comic book strip, I know the place for you. No, it’s not a Pink Floyd reunion tour. Even better. It’s Figment Boston (Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m and Sunday noon-6p.m.).
Now in its fifth year, Figment Boston is an interactive, community arts project that brings thousands of folks together for one rollicking good time on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. This Saturday and Sunday, you can partake in all of these activities and more under the aegis of Figment (just don’t try them all at the same time).
What started in 2007 on New York City’s Governors Island as a team of passionate volunteers and a handful of participatory projects is now a multi-city event bringing public art to the people from coast to coast (and across an ocean) — from San Diego to Chicago, Toronto to D.C., Philly to Geelong. Figment is still a volunteer-driven force for social change, refusing corporate sponsorship and eschewing the art market altogether. Don’t expect sales at Figment Boston this weekend. Do expect one large-scale, outdoor, community arts festival that is free and fun for the whole family, not just the kids.
The point is collaboration and community-building, not commerce (it’s an environmentally-friendly festival to boot, adhering to the “leave no trace” ethic). Artists of all stripes, emerging or otherwise, are invited to submit proposals to Figment Boston. Those that get “people working and playing and creating together” are added to the roster, whether “sculpture, installation, performance, music, workshops, games, or site-specific pieces.” Anything that broadens our definition of art, blurs the boundaries between artists and audience, and celebrates creative culture gets the Figment Boston stamp of approval.
On tap this year are the 3-D AutoSub Dome Community Mural, the brainchild of Boston muralist Nate Swain, with segments to be painted by festival-goers, and the marching Jamaica Plain Honk Band, which welcomes new members at all skill levels as they play “parades, parties, and protests.” Providence band The Low Anthem presents the psychedelic sculpture, Waves the Neon Seaweed, a freestanding mechanical bell-tower, while the Real Time Art Show conducts what it calls “an experiment in social photography,” creating a printed gallery of Figment in actual time that changes over the course of the event. Happen to like a photo you see on view? Feel free to take it home with you. That’s the Real Time Art Show policy on “dealing” art.
Boston’s Company One provides the ASTRO Wall, a four-panel comic layout featuring Astro Boy, the robot superhero who has the distinction of being the first ever Anime character. Participants affix their own images to the panels, creating a changing, community-sourced storyline. And don’t forget (how could you possibly?) to check out the six fantastical gnome-themed miniature golf greens or the Giant Xylo, a huge, freestanding xylophone that anyone can play at will.
If you're looking for more fun, Figment After Dark keeps the arts action going in Dewey Square with a free dance party featuring live DJs and fire spinners Saturday from 6 to 11 p.m. Video Bleep brings the immersive 360-degree, surround sound dome of video to dancers, while Julia Jerome’s Waterlily Sky offers a respite from the sensory overload with a mobile of internally lit waterlilies spinning and swaying in the breeze.
When it comes to play, Figment Boston has known for years what scientific research is only now discovering: the manifold psychological benefits of playfulness, of spirited, frolicsome cheer, for people (yes, adults) and their communities. Fortunately for us, they have always practiced what they preach, and this weekend looks to be no exception.
Robyn Day is a Boston-and Chicago-based photographer and contributing writer at Art New England, The Artery and Big Red & Shiny. She is represented by Hannah Bacol Busch Gallery in Houston.