Many moons ago, when I first wandered through DUMBO, I recall being struck by the strange space arrangement and the unique energy of this neighborhood. Pancaked between, around, and underneath the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, and situated on the water with a stunning view of lower Manhattan, today’s DUMBO has the exclusivity feel of a small private island. However, before the condos and their toy dog-walking occupants arrived, DUMBO had a broke-ass history of its own.
In the early 1900s, the area now called DUMBO was a manufacturing district where machinery, boxes, and Brillo soap pads were produced. In the late 1970s, deindustrialization brought artists, young homesteaders, and the perpetually weird to the area for the cheap and amazing loft apartment spaces. These smart new residents coined the name DUMBO (standing for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) in 1978, thinking that such an unsavory name would keep the developers and rich out. They were wrong. Now along with being a place of residence for the wealthy elite, DUMBO is also a historic Brooklyn district.
Thankfully, DUMBO has not shut itself off completely from normal people. Due to the variety of art spaces, factories, parks, and non-profits, including Galapagos, St. Ann’s Warehouse, Brooklyn Arts Council, Dumbo Arts Center, Jacques Torres Chocolate Factory, Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, Bargemusic, and Brooklyn Bridge Park, DUMBO is still a strange and wonderful area to explore.
This weekend, September 25-27th, DUMBO opens itself up to everyone with the FREE 13th Annual D.U.M.B.O. Art Under the Bridge Festival! The group behind the event, the Dumbo Arts Center, describes it as a â€œthree-day, multi-site, neighborhood-wide, one-of-a-kind art happening: where serendipity meets the haphazard and where the unpredictable, spontaneous and downright weird thrive.â€ Sounds so cool, right? I’ve never been before, but my friend Marie claims that it facilitated one of the best nights she’s ever had in her four years in New York City! One thing led to another, and she found herself hanging out with a bunch of artist strangers in the wee hours of the morning, drunk off the FREE alcohol and lack of sleep, talking, laughing, playing music as if the world depended on their wacky presence. (P.S. Look for Marie tonight when you go. She’s a southern beauty who looks like Sally Field back in the â€œNorma Raeâ€ days, and she’ll probably be toting her ukulele.)
Along with Marie, you’ll find â€œtouchable, accessible, and interactive art, on a scale that makes it the nation’s largest urban forum for experimental art.” Plus â€œin addition to the 80+ projects throughout the historical post-industrial waterfront span, visitors can tour local artists’ studios or check out a non-stop program of cutting-edge video art from New York City and around the world.â€ Whew! Bring a flask, and let yourself go on an adventure.
Oh, and if you are an iPhone person, they have a festival app at dumbo.walkabit.com.