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It doesn’t truly start to feel like summer in New York City until the schedules for free outdoor film screenings, Central Park’s SummerStage, and P.S.1 Warm Up are released. A younger event that is sure to make the quintessential list soon is FIGMENT. A free interactive arts festival on Governors Island, the FIGMENT Festival is an all-ages sensory feast. Seeing sculpture, installations, dance, music, children’s activities and more set in the beautiful backdrop made for a perfect Sunday.

The first FIGMENT Festival was in 2007, and since then has grown to an impressive 2-day long event this year with more than 300 artists and 30,000 people. The event’s motto is “Inspire art, build community, create transformation” and because it is free to participate, the sheer range and creativity of the projects was impressive. The title refers to the phrase “figment of your imagination”. I saw everything from a stand giving ice cream for playing tag, indie band, group peacefully sharing memories, a thoughtfully curated line of laundry, mini-golf course, sculptures galore, and droves of people in some seriously awesome costumes.

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Governors Island always strikes me as one of the best places to go when Manhattan starts wearing on the nerves. Its historical landmarks, rolling hills and general verdancy made for a spectacular setting for public art and activities this past weekend. The horizon on the island was peppered with all kinds of cheerful structures, and the vibe was decidedly friendly and relaxed. The layout of the island and the generous spreading out of projects seems key to the experience of FIGMENT. What I also loved about the festival was how simultaneously family/kid-friendly and intelligent the content was. The organizers really found the perfect pitch at which to appeal to all ages and people — I previously thought this wasn’t possible in New York, but maybe it’s actually only possible in New York.

FIGMENT’s general openness to its submitters and warm encouragement of participatory art joins the cause for enhancing art’s accessibility to the public. In recent years, exhibitions like SFMOMA’s Art of Participation (2009) and MoMA’s Talk To Me (2011) helped break through the at-times intimidating, restrictive space of the art museum. FIGMENT’s identity as an inclusive arts festival on an island gave it the power to really speak to its visitors on a very open, effective level.

Although FIGMENT in its entirety is over in New York until next summer, you can still catch a few of the major structures built for it. The miniature golf installations, sculpture garden, and tree house are available for experiencing through September 23, 2012. The festival is a multi-city one, by the way! Other iterations coming up are Detroit July 21 — 22; Boston July28 — 29; and D.C. Sept 29.

Get in touch with the author @the_curiouscity.

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