An Arts Festival Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass

An Arts Festival Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass

DUMBO is one of the most diverse and interesting neighborhoods to be in. It’s filled with vast plots of grass bordered by the East River, street art decorating the gray walls, and long streets with buildings for anything and everything. One of the biggest events Dumbo holds is the Dumbo Arts Festival, which is a three-day event of art, music, and performance in every possible corner and space of Dumbo.

Once you step into Dumbo, you have already stepped into the festival. It’s almost like a scavenger hunt where you are looking for pieces of art that are displayed. There is art on the grass, on the streets, and in the buildings, and you have to keep an eye out for them while you are walking around. All of the art is submitted by selected local, national, and international artists who apply months in advance to have their work displayed to more than 200,000 people on grass, on the river, and in studios. These pieces are very unique, some can make you smile, others can move you with their strong messages.

One of the festival’s featured works of art is the Ship of Tolerance, by Russian artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. These artists collaborated with various New York City elementary schools to get over 600 students to paint their interpretations of tolerance. They then selected 150 of these paintings to be strewn together and put up on the ship. The wooden ship is 66 feet long and 23 feet wide and mirrors an ancient Egyptian sailing vessel. It currently stands on the East River and faces Brooklyn Bridge Park. The artists said, “Children understand tolerance amazingly well. They are mostly unspoiled by the prejudice often carried by the adults. If we listen to them, perhaps, we can alleviate some of the oppression we witness everyday.” It has great meaning behind it and is definitely a must-see.


The Dumbo Arts Festival also highlights “DUMBO Walls”, eight pieces of street art from artists like Shepard Fairey, CAM, Yuko Shimuzu, and Stefan Sagmeister. They are located on large brick walls by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway underpass, the Brooklyn Bridge parks, and subway stops. These murals were recently created in the late summer and will be on view for about a year. The Dumbo Improvement District, NYCDOT, and Jonathan Levine Gallery sponsored these international artists to create eight large outdoor murals for display along the once empty walls. The artists spent long days using spray paints, hoses, and ladders and slowly painted these huge masterpieces. I was completely fascinated by the many intricate details and the enormity of the art when I stood in front of them. “DUMBO Walls” is one of Dumbo’s largest art exhibitions and they hope to attract a bigger audience who will enjoy the new vibrant streets.

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There is also a newly improved place called the Kidlot, which is an area for people of all ages. It has lots of sculptures made of cardboard and papier mâché that look like monsters and other cute little creatures. There are also many little sculptures that look like houses with different activities to do such as drawing on them with markers, making collages inside, and having storytime with volunteers. It is definitely one of the more interactive parts of this festival and a fun family-friendly space to keep kids occupied or make adults feel young again.

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Throughout each day there are different performances going on, from dance shows to video projections. Many artists and companies have special shows that have performers dancing throughout Dumbo’s grass or projected on a wall at the evening time. It is very exciting to be able to watch a performance while sitting on the grass or walking down the streets. Additionally, while you are walking down the streets of Dumbo, you may cross a multitude of buildings which are open studios of many local artists. These studios display all of the artists’ works of art, some of which is for sale. There are a large variety of studios, from photography studios to sculpture studios, and they all have a unique theme. Being inside these studios feels very calm and intimate because you get a behind-the-scenes look at how artists do their work and how it is compiled.


Being at the Dumbo Arts Festival is a very fun and adventurous experience. Dumbo is already known for its artsy and cool feeling and its beautiful open scenery of the Manhattan Bridge and New York City skyline. Putting the new art from this festival and the breathtaking view together makes a visit to the Dumbo festival worthwhile. It is definitely a captivating experience. I must mention that if you want to have a full experience, you should devote a whole day to it because you are going to want to stop and look at all the art and see all the scheduled performances!