Having lived in just about every neighborhood in Brooklyn, Ed Woodham is a staple in the New York arts scene. In 1996, Woodham founded Art in Odd Places, a grassroots movement that presents visual and performance art in unexpected public spaces. AiOP also produces an annual festival along 14th Street in Manhattan, NYC from Avenue C to the Hudson River each October.
Q: What was New York like in the 80s? Were you involved in the gallery side of the art world?
I could care less about the gallery world back then. I was more interested in experiencing New York City and its nightlife. The city was edgier then. I would ride the subway to Far Rockaway and be surrounded by gangs. I’d have to get up and move to another car and hopefully not get robbed or stabbed. Those were the mean streets of New York, but with that danger also came more excitement. It was the heyday of graffiti and hip-hop – lots of boom boxes, and clubs like the Pyramid, Paradise Garage, Danceteria. The clubs and the streets were where art, fashion, and music all mixed and people would gather around them. For instance, in the 80s, when a break-dancer threw down a piece of cardboard, the energy that came through the body and the sounds of the neighborhood; that’s what art in the streets is about. It’s like that Bill Cunningham quote: “The best fashion [and art and music are] in the street.”
Q: How have things changed since then?
I’m involved in the gallery and museum worlds now, but I still find them to be very elitist, especially in the United States because of the education system. In this country, not very many people feel comfortable going into a gallery or museum. It’s like you have to be a certain level of privilege and education to go into those spaces and understand what it is. The streets have a very different way of communicating and exploring art in its myriad of forms.
Q: Is that where Art in Odd Places came from?
Yes, Art in Odd Places is about taking art out of the gallery and into the streets to make it more accessible to the public. With a festival-like atmosphere, AiOP provides a supportive community for artists to take art from their studio and try something new in front of an audience. Some projects don’t work out, but that’s okay, that’s what AiOP is – a place for experimentation. There aren’t many opportunities like that, especially now that art is so commoditized.
Ed speaks in our third session of TEDxGowanus. To see the full speaker lineup, visit our homepage.