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IDEAS CITY Festival: Hope and Unrest in the Invisible City

  • IDEAS CITY Cooper Union New York, NY 10003 USA (map)
The age of network culture offers new, powerful tools for individual and collective expression, and in response, the act of protest is rapidly evolving; individuals, groups, and entire communities once conveniently invisible to decision-makers are self-organizing to make their voices heard. From Cairo to Istanbul and from Barcelona to São Paulo, the sight of public squares inundated by a sea of protesters has become one of the key images of our time. At the same time, an increasing number of people—the poor, the homeless, the elderly, the mentally ill, and undocumented immigrants, to name just a few groups—are disappearing from sight. How do the disenfranchised find representation in the city today? Is there a cartography to guide those who have wandered or been driven from the center? This panel will analyze the social and political crises triggered by new technologies, the shifts in the balance of power within society they are bringing about, and the role of art in defining a new paradigm of social justice.

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” 
—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972

The third edition of the New Museum’s IDEAS CITY Festival will take place in the Bowery neighborhood of downtown Manhattan May 28 to 30. IDEAS CITY explores the future of cities around the globe with culture as a driving force. Founded by the New Museum in 2011, it is a major collaborative initiative between hundreds of arts, education, and civic organizations centered on the belief that culture is fundamentally and inextricably vital to urban growth and innovation. The Festival builds on the New Museum’s mission of “New Art, New Ideas” by expanding the Museum beyond its walls into the civic realm. 

The theme of this year’s Festival is The Invisible City. During three days of conferences, debates, workshops, performances, architectural, and artistic interventions, IDEAS CITY will explore questions of transparency and surveillance, citizenship and representation, expression and suppression, and the enduring quest for visibility in the city. The Festival will reconfigure the Bowery neighborhood into a multi-platform incubator that asks a collective public to explore issues faced by the city, propose solutions, and seed concrete actions. 

“The intangible, seething energy that the legendary Bowery neighborhood is steeped in will once again become visible as we peel back the surface of the streets to take a closer look at the lives that surround us every day, in our own neighborhood and beyond, to expose, examine, and question the numerous cultural, social, political, and technological transformations we are undergoing as a society,” said Joseph Grima, Director of IDEAS CITY.

Schedule & programming highlights

Thursday, May 28
The Festival kicks off with a series of talks, panels, discussions, and short films at the Great Hall at Cooper Union. Speakers will include some of the world’s most forward-thinking visionaries, who will discuss key civic issues and formulate action for the city of tomorrow. Panels will examine the following topics and questions:

–Within the city, an increasing number of people—such as the homeless, elderly, and undocumented immigrants—are disappearing from sight. Is there a cartography to identify those who have wandered or been driven from the center? 

–The designers shaping the cities of the future must engage with an increasingly challenging set of hypothetical conditions—scenarios that often remain invisible to their inhabitants. How do urbanists, architects, and activists create habitats that anticipate drastic future change such as overcrowding and climate reversals?

–We are increasingly dependent on global-network infrastructures that are as invisible as they are vast. How can networks and processes be made more transparent, accessible, and empowering? What role do they play in guaranteeing accountability? Can art be the connective membrane in this process?

–A vast proportion of our lives exist as an invisible online record of our identities, interests, and affiliations. What role does data and privacy play in the perpetuation of democracy in the 21st century?

Select participants include:

Micah White, Cocreator of Occupy Wall Street and Founder of the Boutique Activist Consultancy specializing in “impossible campaigns”.

Lawrence Lessig, Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University, advocates for the open-spectrum movement and the need for a Second Constitutional Congress.

Bjarke Ingels, an architect renowned for his innovative approach to sustainable development and renewable energy, is conceptualizing a park to protect New York City from rising water surges and is designing Google’s new campus in Palo Alto, California.

Trevor Paglen created the term “Experimental Geography” and uses his work as an artist to shed light on the erosion of privacy.

Jillian York, Director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, specializes in free expression in the Arab world. 

Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, is an expert in the role played by third-party service providers in easing law enforcement surveillance of their customers.