About the Project
This May, Creative Time, The Fortune Society, artist Phil Collins and over 100 collaborators present Bring Down The Walls, a three-part public art project which turns an unconventional lens on the criminal justice system through house music. Free and open to the public, Bring Down The Walls is a school by day, club by night, an album, and films. Open every Friday and Saturday in May 2018, the project will occupy Firehouse, Engine Company 31, a historic, decommissioned fire station in Lower Manhattan.
Born out of years of research — including Collins’ work with men incarcerated at Sing Sing Correctional Facility — Bring Down The Walls is a profoundly collaborative project featuring contributions from individuals who have experienced incarceration, criminal justice reform experts, community activists, and educators. Inspired by the ethos of early house music venues, in which nightclubs often functioned as hubs of political engagement as much as spaces for personal liberation and collective transcendence, Bring Down The Walls convenes musicians, performers, DJs, and other influential contributors to New York City’s current club scene and the historic house era.
By day, the space will offer new ways to engage with and learn about issues of mass incarceration and house music culture, including workshops, discussions, and classes. In addition to talks with advocates working in the field of criminal justice reform, workshops will be led by individuals who have experienced incarceration, upending conventional hierarchies around who is the expert and who is the educator.
By night, the space will transform and function as a dance club and performance venue, celebrating house music as a communal experience and embracing the history of nightclubs as sanctuaries of togetherness and liberation. Nighttime programming will feature both live performances by the vocalists and musicians behind the album, as well as takeovers by individuals and collectives that represent New York City’s current, vibrant nightlife community.
Released in conjunction with the project, the album pairs vocalists who have experienced incarceration with cutting-edge electronic musicians to produce covers of some of the most enduring house hits. The newly recorded tracks will be accompanied by original short films, developed with the album’s vocalists and produced as idiosyncratic music videos.
Special thanks to Nato Thompson, as Creative Time’s Artistic Director and Chief Curator from 2007-2017, Thompson led curatorial direction for Bring Down The Walls, stewarding the project from its inception and playing a crucial role in defining the content and form of Bring Down The Walls throughout the course of his seven-year involvement in the project. Thompson is currently the Artistic Director at Philadelphia Contemporary where he will lead the institution’s exhibitions and programming, and help to found its first permanent building.