A performance by nightlife practitioners JUDY, one of MAD’s THE FUN Fellows (image via madmuseum.org)

Could your next bar night actually be an art night? THE FUN Fellowship, a new initiative by New York City’s Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), promotes nightlife to the status of art. From the creation of a shared artistic community to the breakdown of social boundaries that comes with an excess of substances and music, urban nightlife is an established cauldron of creativity.

Yet New York City’s artistic institutions have lost touch with nightlife practitioners, says FUN curator and MAD manager of Public Programs, Jake Yuzna. THE FUN Fellowship, granted to four artists or art collectives annually, is a way to remedy that disconnection and support the nightlife community.

“THE FUN is a yearlong fellowship to recognize the social practice of nightlife,” says Yuzna, “artists who utilize social gatherings as their art form, bringing people together in some way.” The definition may seem a little too close to 60s artistic practices like Allan Kaprow’s “Happenings” and performance art to be unique, but Yuzna’s aim is to break down our perceived boundaries between fine art and fun.

Photo from an event by Gag!, another THE FUN Fellow (image via madmuseum.org)

“Nightlife is anything from [historic club] Limelight to a party in the basement of someone’s building,” Yuzna explains, “It really means people coming together and sharing ideas and sharing experiences and sharing a damn good time.”

The practice of nightlife has a basis in artistic history as well, but for Yuzna its found in corners that aren’t always considered by the world of fine art. Nightlife is created by “people like the club kids in the 90s, Leigh Bowery,” he explains, “even places that were moneymakers, like Studio 54 or the cabarets of pre-World War II Berlin … This isn’t the $18 to $22 a drink nightlife,” laughs Yuzna. “We like to joke that there’s no bottle service.”

As New York City increasingly moves toward corporate and real estate-driven models of nightlife with hot spot restaurants and flashy hotel clubs, “it’s harder for the younger generation who have been wanting to express themselves in this way to find the logistical support to keep it going,” Yuzna says. In response to this absence, MAD will act as a venue to host nightlife events planned by artist recipients of THE FUN Fellowship. The museum will also support the artists throughout the year in more abstract ways, helping to provide support for large scale projects and the administrative infrastructure needed to produce events.

The initial round of THE FUN Fellowships have been awarded to an interesting cast of characters.

JUDY is a group that organizes inclusive queer parties, incorporating performances and installations. The collective will use the fellowship to “turn their practice into a nonprofit” and establishing a permanent, non-commercial nightlife venue.

Earl Dax will take his iconic The Party Which Dare Not Speak Its Name* on tour, during which “30 to 50 performance artists representing all of New York’s five boroughs will collaborate with artists from each East Coast city visited.”  The two year anniversary of the original party will be celebrated at The Delancy on April 7.

Thunder Horse installation, organized by Lauren Devine and Patrik Sandberg (THE FUN Fellows) (image via ps1.org)

Cameron Cooper and Zach Cole’s Gag! group will present the first event to occur at the Museum of Arts and Design. In conjunction with New York Fashion Week, on September 10th and 11th Gag! will host the Gag! Free Store in MAD’s lobby. Mingling high fashion and low culture ephemera, the store will be “an experiment in material hierarchies” in which visitors can exchange any item they like for one of their own.

Finally, Lauren Devine and Patrik Sandberg’s Snack the Planet will “recreate the fictitious 90’s internet café from the film Hackers — part hackers lounge and part virtual arcade.”

THE FUN Fellowship is an exciting new push for museums to become more relevant in social spheres outside the insular art world. Yuzna is casting a greater net for his curatorial project, creating something that audiences can really connect with — and dance to. “Let yourself be free and shake your moneymaker … that’s a part of it,” Yuzna says, “But [nightlife] is also the backbone of our community. We want to support that practice.”

Wondering about THE FUN’s all-caps, goofy name? “The whole point is being true to nightlife. Very simple, very bold, it gets the point across,” the curator laughs. “THE PARTY, GOOD TIME … it’s in the spirit of nightlife.”

Find out more about THE FUN Fellowship, which runs from March to March annually, on the MAD website

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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...