Anyone who’s ever been to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade knows what an amazing, overwhelming, and insane spectacle it is. Thousands and thousands of people — last year there were 750,000 — dressed and strategically not dressed in vaguely sea-themed outfits descend on Surf Avenue for what’s ostensibly the largest art parade in America. There are dolpin-shaped floats and people covered in body paint and kids dressed like pirates, and lots and lots of breasts. It’s an encapsulation of the old spirit of Coney Island in modern-day form, a celebration of the promise of weirdness that continues to draw all types of creative people to New York.
The Mermaid Parade was founded in 1983 by Dick Zigun, a Yale theater grad now known as the unofficial “mayor of Coney Island.” Zigun also started the circus side show and Coney Island Museum, and all three institutions fall under the purview of the nonprofit Coney Island USA. Unfortunately, like so much of the neighborhood, Coney Island USA was hit hard by hurricane Sandy. The storm destroyed the side show performance space and museum, with the organization incurring some $400,000 worth of damage. Plus, the money that Coney would normally raise from those venues to help fund the Mermaid Parade has trickled down to next to nothing.
All of this means that the Mermaid Parade, currently scheduled for June 22, is in trouble, and Coney Island USA has taken to Kickstarter to raise the $100,000 needed to mount it. A small donation of just $5 gets you your very own freak flag, while $2,000 gets you signed, limited edition prints of Coney Island photos by Harvey Stein. My favorite is the reward for contributing $5,000: an artist-designed Mobile Personal Climitified Porta-Potty Float, aka a “[s]pecial Mermaid-themed, air-conditioned portapotty with security to prevent the mer-serfs from getting in” made by Satisfixation. Donate now, and help keep the magical weirdness of Coney Island afloat.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.