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FIGMENT: A Participatory Art Event!

FIGMENT: A Participatory Art Event!

Scott Rowland • June 28, 2016 • Art • 

Art is not just a quiet room full of critics analyzing and over analyzing an undisclosed meaning. The act itself is a primal response that subsides the mundanity capsulated in repetition of everyday sights, sounds and feelings.

In order to relieve the dulling city-scape of New York’s metropolis, a revolutionary art project known as FIGMENT came to fruition. The idea quickly turned into a tangible, enjoyable experience for artists to set loose their creative juices for a weekend. So when the opportunity arose, Nicholas Whitaker, producer of FIGMENT Boulder, decided to bring the fulfillment of an event dedicated to interactive, engaging art installations to the Boulder community.

As soon as this unique, inspiring and brand new art-based initiative happening at the Boulder Public Library on July 9 – 10 came to our attention, ALOC Media wanted to help encourage this idea of participation. It was obvious that people of all ages would enjoy the opportunity to dive hands first into creative expression whether internally from artists and volunteers or externally from participants. So we spoke with Whitaker to find out more.

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ALOC: From your experience, what is the FIGMENT project?

Nicholas Whitaker:  FIGMENT is a free, inclusive, participatory arts event held in multiple cities around the world, drawing tens of thousands of participants each year for the past 10 years. This is the first year we’re bringing FIGMENT to Boulder. FIGMENT’s mission is to offer free, family-friendly and participatory art to entire communities, and that can take many forms, from face painting, to group hula-hoop dance performances, to kinetic sculptures, giant bubble making, recycled plastic cup sculptures, and mini-golf holes made by a group of collaborators. The more people can engage and interact with the art, the better.

ALOC: How did the FIGMENT project get started initially? Who were the key visionaries?

NW: FIGMENT was founded in July 2007  by David Koren and a group of New York artists and collaborators as a free, one-day participatory arts event on Governors Island in New York Harbor with over 2,600 participants. Since then, FIGMENT has grown significantly each year in number of projects, duration, participants, volunteers, fundraising capability, exhibitions, locations, overall level of commitment and participation, and public support.

ALOC: What inspires you to spread the FIGMENT Project to a new city and continue growing the concept into a national community?

13310355_1027696630657240_10255734561442636_nNW: FIGMENT’s vision for art looks past the white-walled galleries and into the realm of participation. Art is not just something that you stand still and quietly look at – it is something you participate in. You touch it, smell it, write on it, talk to it, dance with it, play with it, learn from it. Interactive art creates a dynamic collaboration between the artist, the audience and their environment.

FIGMENT’s goal is to advance social and personal transformation through creativity, in the form of free participatory arts events and exhibitions. FIGMENT is uninterrupted by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. Selling or advertising goods or services is not permitted. Neither our artists nor our planners and staff are paid: everything that you see at FIGMENT is born from a simple desire to share imagination with each other and the public, and local communities around the world have recognized that this kind of art brings people together, and that art doesn’t have to be centralized in a big city, or gallery. It can happen anywhere.

ALOC: How do you plan to make this concept a success here in Boulder?

NW: We’re reaching out to local artist and maker communities, schools, local business and everywhere that people gather to get the word out. We’re looking for artists and volunteers interested in sharing their art with the public, and are actively seeking them out throughout the Boulder area and on social media.

ALOC: Pretend we met randomly at a coffee shop. Why should I go to the Boulder Public Library on July 9-10 for the FIGMENT project experience?

Baby FIGMENTNW: FIGMENT demonstrates what the arts can be: participatory, bursting with creativity and completely free, born from the desire to share imagination and invention between artists and the public.

FIGMENT is a grassroots effort, organized and run entirely by volunteers as a gift to our cities because we believe in the aspirations and mission of FIGMENT. It brings people together of all ages to enjoy and engage with art in a free, non-commodified space. FIGMENT is what you bring to it, and we’re excited to see what Boulder brings to FIGMENT Boulder this year.

ALOC: Without limiting the spectrum of possibilities, can you speak to the types of art you hope to incorporate?

NW: The types of art we are looking for is not the kind you sit and watch or experience passively. We’re looking for art that engages, requires participation, and dazzles. It can be something as simple as teaching someone to write haiku poems, blow giant bubbles, or a 20-foot sculpture made to be climbed on and painted on. And make your own superhero class, or an interactive sound installation using motion and light sensors. It can really be anything, as long as it involves others. This is our first year in Boulder, so I’m excited about what the community will bring.

ALOC: In the years you’ve been involved, can you describe an installation that has truly embodied the interactive, collaborative theme of the project? What made this one stand out?

NW: I think for me the projects that have really stood out are the ones that make surprise and delight. There is an unexpected joy of actively participating in a flash mob dance off, or building a giant fort out of recycled cardboard moving boxes, or marching in a spontaneous marching band parade. Or just sitting down to talk to a stranger giving free advice. These moments take us out of the mundane and into the spectacular.

BEX NICK FIGMENTI might be a bit biased, but if I had to pick one, my wife and I fell in love after I offered to document a 100-hooper dance performance dedicated to finding love and loving one’s self. Little did we know that she conjured up that love for herself by bringing it to the public and to me. A few years later I proposed to her at FIGMENT, at the end of her last performance, and we’ve been working on that art project ever since.

ALOC: Why are events like the figment project important for culture and in society?

NW: In these challenging economic times, it is important that artists devise new ways to create, share, think, and dream about what is possible. FIGMENT is an alternative to many of the shortcomings of the commercial art world: exclusive, expensive, impersonal, untouchable and often simply boring. I think events like FIGMENT are important to lower that bar of entry, and let people know that they can express themselves, and share in that creativity without having to fit into a ridged definition of what art can be. Art is for everyone, and everyone should have access to it.


Photography provided by Alex Taferner, Solymar Ball, Redlite and Nicholas Whitaker


If people are interested in submitting a project, they can find out more information at


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