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Ideas City Returns to New York

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Courtesy New Museum. Photos: Benoit Pailley

There is a block party on Mulberry Street this Saturday night. During the day, small, open-air “libraries”—books in high-design shelters—will pop up along the streets around the Bowery. Two days before, the mayors and ex-mayors of cities like Paris, Austin and Miami will discuss how to leverage under-utilized urban resources. At night, murals will appear on the roll-down security gates of Bowery storefronts.

Welcome to Ideas City, the New Museum’s biennial urban-think-tank-cum-street-fair-cum-public-art-intervention launched on the Bowery two years ago. Through May 4 (the event started on May 1), more than 100 projects, installations, conferences and workshops will animate downtown Manhattan—all under the theme “Untapped Capital,” a phrase coined by New Museum director Lisa Phillips. “That idea is the heartbeat of the initiative,” says Karen Wong, cofounder of Ideas City.

“We believe that the cultural sphere is still a relatively untapped source of enormously powerful creative capital,” explains Wong, “especially in its potential to stimulate economic development and foster greater innovation in other fields.”

Here’s the thing about art. And culture. And capital: While the arts provide thousands of jobs in New York (more, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg pointed out in a recent press conference, than there are people in some cities), its world remains largely disconnected from much of urban life and other industries. As a result, the arts universe has grown increasingly introverted (its own fashion, language, parties, prices) and excludes most of New York’s millions. The New Museum itself has taken heat for gentrifying but not integrating into its Bowery neighborhood.

Ideas City could begin to break down some of the barriers between artists, entrepreneurs and citizens. After the 2011 event, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter began working with artist Pedro Reyes to plan public art projects throughout his city. A lawyer and a programmer created 596 Acres, which identifies empty lots throughout Brooklyn (and now New York and the country) and plants them with the help of local residents. And the Bowery Mission began a rooftop-farming project with Whole Foods Tribeca.

Between the workshops and the StreetFest street fair (May 4)—featuring more than 125 ideas and philosophies on every element of urban living—at least one conversation is sure to spark a creative fire. Through May 4; conferences, May 2; all-inclusive pass, $50; for full schedule visit ideas-city.org.

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