Yes, the galleries in Chelsea are inspiring, and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is not to be missed, but if you’re looking for art and performance in New York City that truly pushes the envelope, there’s one place you should head: Bushwick.
This Brooklyn neighborhood has an industrial past that can still be felt today through warehouses — turned galleries and theaters — gowned in murals. Just note: Things in the neighborhood can take quite unusual turns, so be prepared to experience things you likely haven’t before.
Amazing Murals at The Bushwick Collective
Ride the L line of the subway to the Jefferson stop and be prepared for your jaw to drop. As soon as you emerge from underground your visual receptors will fill with crazy colors, shapes and images painted onto sidewalks, building walls, water towers — pretty much every touchable inch of surface.
The backstory: Bushwick-native Joseph Ficalora’s father was murdered walking home from work in the 1990s on the very streets in which the Bushwick Collective now resides. To turn the sad thoroughfare into a place of inspiration, he began curating the walls as an outdoor art gallery.
Most works are nonpolitical, and you can wander 15-plus blocks that feature vibrant depictions of Biggie, the Smurfs, 21 Jump Street, wildlife, giant skulls and more.
Tip: Afterward, head to Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos, a local tortilla factory and cantina with cheap tacos and BYOB drinks.
Anything Goes Performances at Bizarre Bar
Warning: This place lives up to its name. As in, be prepared to see burlesque dancers speed-eating hot dogs, nude circus performers swallowing fiery swords and men in drag affixing safety pins to their faces on a small stage where madness regularly ensues.
Dance parties, live music, poetry, circus acts, unisex burlesque, comedy shows, live painting, open-mic nights … really anything goes. The performances are the type that leave you thinking, “Yes, anything is possible in NYC.”
Budget travelers will be happy to know that event prices typically range from a $0 to $10 donation.
Tip: Pair your offbeat experience with bohemian-style absinthe, over which a sugar cube is lit aflame and caramelized into the drink using ice water.
Go on a Gallery Crawl Around the Morgan L
If you’re looking to check out galleries that truly push the envelope, the area around Bushwick’s Morgan Avenue L train stop is your spot. Start by seeing emerging artists at NURTUREart. This a factory turned four-story gallery collective features rotating exhibitions, studio tours, film screenings, performance art, monthly salons and workshops.
From there, visit the nearby Chimney, where changing works creatively interact with the industrial space (think indoor stargazing while being transported to an Indonesian ceremony).
Other local galleries worth checking out include Interstate, Silent Barn and, a bit further out, the awesomely inclusive Living Gallery where everyone from locals to students to the homeless can showcase their creativity.
Tip: To explore art through film (on a budget!) around this stop, head to Syndicated — a restaurant, bar and theater — for delicious food and $4 to $7 movies.
Drink in Heritage at The Well
Bushwick was founded on beer, with German immigrants building a wealthy brewing empire. One thing that hurt the industry was Prohibition, though a few breweries managed to stay open, making “near beer” — that is, brews with little to no alcohol — like the Edward B. Hittleman Brewery.
While the business is long gone, Bushwick’s Brewer’s Row is where you can still see the 19th-century brewery facades, many coated in beautiful street art. In the old Hittleman space — now the bar and performance venue The Well — you can have a local craft beer in their courtyard surrounded by murals.
Have Your Photo Taken with Confetti
The Confetti Project offers more than just the chance to roll around in confetti. Photographer and project creator Jelena Aleksich will sit with you in her Bushwick studio to ask questions like what you’re good at and how you’ve overcome your toughest struggles before bringing your story to life by snapping gorgeous confetti strewn images with you as the subject.
In fact, you won’t just emerge from your photo shoot with gorgeous photos; you’ll find a deeper understanding of what you celebrate in life and what makes you uniquely you.
Tip: For the best shoot, bring multiple outfits and props that really tell your story.