Demo23: New York festival gives cultural pioneers platform to pitch ideas

The inaugural event coincides with 10th anniversary of New Museum's New Inc programme

Avant-garde and new media sound artist Lamb performing at a session curated by Jazsalyn. Photo: Christine Rivera
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New York's first cultural incubator, the New Museum's New Inc, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, it has launched a new think tank called Demo2023, inspired by the eponymous presentations in Silicon Valley.

Following the tech trend of holding conferences to launch new products to insiders and the public, the New Yorker museum’s intensive programme provides a platform to culture producers to present projects in various stages of maturity.

New Inc's recently hired director Salome Asega has curated a line-up of presenters from different genres and backgrounds for the event, which is running at the institution until Friday.

Artist Anicka Yi – whose multidisciplinary practice involves exploration of microbes, germs, genealogy and the body – is among the speakers.

Also included is cutting-edge architect and founder of Food New York, Dong-Ping Wong – known for designing the former Kardashian-West home as well as various Off White boutiques – alongside creative director Hassan Rahim and star chef and food activist Angela Dimayuga.

Although this week’s programme is the festival’s inaugural edition, New Inc has been organising similar cultural incubators for its members since its inception.

“A whole gamut of stakeholders – from curators to philanthropists and cultural directors – could propel these projects to the next level,” Asega tells The National.

In this new chapter, the crucial element for the curator has been diversifying the roster and expanding to those who are not yet organisation members – even including those outside of the art and culture sector in a traditional sense. “In this festival, it was important for me to contextualise what we’re doing in our incubator programme with external voices of established creative practitioners,” she says.

The cultural producers will present their continuing projects – with topics from food to science, biology, music and AI – to an audience, which could include career-making museum curators, top-tier collectors, fellow artists or audience members who are simply interested in learning about art.

The democratic quality among the viewers partially stems from the free-of-charge ticket distribution on the New Museum's website. While the demonstrated projects can also span a broad spectrum of concepts, materials and goals, Asega narrowed down the festival’s core to five themes for clarity and maximum impact.

When applying, participants had to choose one of the following themes: Art & Code, Collective Abundance, Creative Science, Extended Realities and Future Memory. These correspond to the calendar to deliver thematically coherent line-ups throughout the three days.

On Wednesday the demonstrations focus on art and coding, immersive technologies and experiential design. Art and sciences will be Thursday’s anchoring topic, while Friday will feature discussions around architecture and design.

Dissemination of ideas, networking and creative cross-pollination are ideal takeaways for any participant, but financial support – not unlike the tech world’s inspirational Demo Days – is not an outcome Asega overlooks: “We try to find new ways to talk about money in our professional development programme at New Inc that still feels missioned and with values aligned for us.”

“We work under a capitalist system, and we need to make money to sustain our projects, so we can move them from passion projects to actual things that sustain us in our day-to-day lives,” she says.

“The pitch can sometimes be as direct as 'this is how much we need', or sometimes they can just be seeking collaborators, looking for advice, or looking to hire a graphic designer.”

Besides the festival’s tight schedule, the curator is curious to explore the outcomes of simply bringing people from all walks of creative sectors together under a museum roof, with an appetite for uncharted ideas and unexpected partnerships.

“My favourite part of conferences and festivals are the hallways chats during the breaks when people really connect,” Asega says. “We have a lounge at the museum lobby which I hope will serve for that very purpose.”

The project came into fruition partially in response to the cancellations of many similar festivals Asega looked forward to each year. “My calendar was suddenly empty due to the lack of funding for arts and culture in the last years,” she says. "I am excited to test whether people are ready to gather again.”

After gaining her organisational hat at the Ford Foundation and smaller New York art non-profits such as The Laundromat Project and Recess Art, Asega sees her new endeavour as an open-ended prompt with real potential.

“I am all about unlikely collaborations because I think that is when the magic happens,” she says. Variety is therefore crucial to each day’s run at the festival, “so we start the show with an experiential and grounding moment”. Asega’s recipe for a multisensory kickoff is to start every morning with a musical performance.

On Wednesday, new media and motion design firm Studio Junbi will join Embassy for an atmospheric AI-supported musical presentation. M Lamar will start the second day with a doomsday-inspired gothic performance.

The podcast Sing for Science will be recorded live at the event, pairing musician Eartheater and computational biologist Elizabeth Henaff to talk about the former’s interest in geology and volcanoes through her music.

The show will also extend from New Museum to five other parts of New York. The Art & Code track is currently presenting a two-week exhibition of interactive art works and sculptures at Dunkunsthalle, a former downtown Dunkin’ Donuts storefront transformed into an art gallery by former New Inc resident Rachel Rossin.

Pier 17 at Financial District, meanwhile, is hosting a three-week creative science showcase, featuring augmented reality, lighting installation and sculptures. “I see this festival as a gathering for like-minded people and stakeholders who show up for each other,” says Asega.

“I am sure I will be surrounded with people I’ve seen through this landscape whether through various residences I have done or administrative hats I have worn.”

Updated: June 21, 2023, 2:02 PM