The united state of the arts: First Howl! festival a success

By Lincoln Anderson

From short films shown under the stars in tranquil community gardens to drag queens strutting in a resuscitated Wigstock in Tompkins Sq. Park, the weeklong, first annual Howl! festival, which wrapped up last night, was a great success by any standard.

The brainchild of Phil Hartman, a filmmaker and owner of Two Boots Pizza, the festival brought together hundreds of events at various venues, mostly in the East Village.

Events ranged from small to grand scale. On the festival’s second night, cinema buffs who could find the event tucked away in Peach Tree Garden on E. Second St., enjoyed a showing of the Avant Garde(n) film series, including movies on one of the East Village’s last remaining rooftop pigeon coops, a satiric look at gentrification and a silent film from the 1970s of John Cage picking mushrooms in the woods.

On Friday and the weekend, Tompkins Sq. Park was the festival’s main venue. Among events in the park, Bob Holman of Bowery Poetry Club hosted the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Festival, while Wigstock and the Charlie Parker Festival, both of which had recently ceased occurring because of funding and organizational problems, were brought to life once more. Similarly, the park’s fence was once again ringed by canvases painted by local artists as part of Art Around the Park, an event that had also ceased to exist a few years ago. Under the umbrella of Howl!, named after poet Ginsberg’s most famous work, all these events were not only happening again, but happening at the same time.

On Sunday night, Lou Reed performed in a rock poetry benefit for the Federation of East Village Artists at Joe’s Pub on Lafayette St. An artists’ advocacy organization, FEVA is another outgrowth of Hartman’s vision.

Each night there was an after party at a different venue, like the Pink Pony on Ludlow St. or Opaline on Avenue A.

Grooving to the sounds of bebop from a jazz quartet in the park on Sunday afternoon as the festival was concluding, Nelson Hall, who did the sketches in the new book “Stranger to the System” about the Tompkins Sq. Park homeless, said it sounded great to him, plus the soundstage was the best-looking he could ever recall being in the park.

Nearby, Jim Flynn, the book’s author, said the festival was great for business. He’d sold 70 copies of the book that day.

Breaking down his display of photos ringing a pastel sidewalk artwork of a nude he’d drawn, artist David Richichi said he was very pleased with the turnout.

“The Lower East Side without art — art’s what really makes it different,” said Richichi, a resident since the 1970s. He said that as opposed to festivals that happened in the early 1990s that were marred by young anarchist punks’ violence, the crowd at Howl! was peaceful, non-drug using and looked as if many of them were from outside the neighborhood. He said it had to have been good for business for local restaurants, like the one his friend owns.

Harry, the park’s supervisor, rolled by in his new electric cart and said that the park was amazingly clean after three days of festival events, and that cleanup work was going to be minimal.

“I told my workers to stay overtime till 12, but I’m going to tell them to go home at nine,” he said.

The one tense moment had been when Jim “Mosaic Man” Power, got upset when he wasn’t allowed some stage time that he said the organizers had promised him. In frustration, Power went to his home on St. Mark’s Pl., got a hammer and chisel and destroyed one of his lamppost mosaics on Avenue A.

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