In the winter of 2016, Michael Rubenfeld, Magda Koralewska, Maia Ipp and I co-founded FestivALT, an independent arts collective based in Kraków, Poland. Our purpose was to develop a program of new contemporary art and performance to coincide with the city's annual Jewish Culture Festival. The four of us co-directed FestivALT's first edition in the summer of 2017, and I remained co-director for the second edition in 2018, and the third edition in 2019, by which point the leadership team also included Adam Schorin and Natalia Czarkowska.
Each year, FestivALT invited artists from Poland and around the world to produce visual art, theater, site-specific performance, and activist interventions that engaged with the complications of contemporary Jewish Poland. We saw this work as a necessary addition to Kraków's Jewish cultural scene, and a complement to the work of the established festival, which did not offer either the artistic forms or the critical approaches in which we were interested. Where the goal of the big festival was to celebrate Jewish culture, our goal was to probe Jewish history, memory and identity in contemporary Poland. Where the big festival avoided difficult topics, our festival invited them. Where the big festival was overtly Zionist in its political messaging, our festival was decidedly diasporic. Where the big festival was conservative in its approach to Jewish culture, our festival was experimental. Most of our work deliberately occurred in non-art spaces in the streets and courtyards of Kraków, or in the intimate setting of Michael and Magda's flat, converted into a performance and gathering space. An important part of our work was to provide a platform for under-represented voices and perspectives, including feminist, queer, multiracial, internationalist, dissident and, paradoxically, Jewish voices—given that the big festival is (with admirable sincerity) produced by non-Jewish Poles.
I photographed FestivALT eagerly during those first three summers, but not comprehensively. The pictures here do not represent anything close to a full view of FestivALT's activities, artists, producers, volunteers, audiences. But I hope they give a feeling of the spirit of what we did, what it was like to be in the midst of it. The sequence here is neither chronological nor topical, though certain of the collective's major projects are represented in multiple images. Separate pages on this website are devoted to two of FestivALT's signature projects, "Lucky Jews" and "The Medicinal Plants of Płaszów," and other pages describe works of mine that were presented in some version at FestivALT, "A Tour of Kroke" and "The Almost Black Book of Auschwitz Monowitz." Each summer's full program is available on FestivALT's web page.
The 2020 edition has been canceled due to the global coronavirus pandemic (as has the Jewish Culture Festival), and meanwhile I have moved away from day-to-day involvement, into a consultative position. I intend to continue to update this page whenever FestivALT returns, which I hope is as soon as possible.
Atlanta, April 2020