"Every place is given its character by certain patterns of events that keep on happening there."   

Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building

Dear Alessandro,
The start of 2017 found us lost in the woods outside of Zvonece, Croatia, chasing after a troupe of mace-wielding, sheepskin-clad men decked in heavy bronze bells and flowered headdresses. As guests of the Kamov Artists Residency in Rijeka, we were invited to follow the centuries-old Zvončari processions, which travel during Carnival season along traditional herding routes from village to village. En route, the Zvončari perform cascading full-body collisions to create a mesmerizing soundscape of bells, audible for miles. Their chaotic clamoring belies the precise choreography and layered iconography of a performance that recalls a lost pastoral identity, evokes historical struggles, and preserves fertility rites linked to “Wildman” traditions throughout Europe. Over the years, through Balkan wars, political repression, and rapid urbanization, this yearly village tradition has managed not only to survive, but also evolve, carrying traces of every epoch left subtly embedded in its costumes and performance. 

As Processional Arts Workshop begins its 10th year as a non-profit, the Zvončari affirm for us how annual processions can serve as vessels for fragile, local narratives. Recurring processions allow communities to take stock, to weave new stories year after year, from the same continuous thread. Compared to the long tenure of the Zvončari, PAW ‘s first decade seems humblingly brief, yet in that time we have seeded or cultivated ongoing procession traditions in over a dozen communities.
In 2017 alone, PAW partnered with Harlem community gardens to help guide our 6th year of Morningside Lights. We added ghostly riders to the Oyster Bay’s Halloween Parade, which we helped launch last year. We returned to Miami’s Vizcaya Museum for our 2nd annual immersive performance. We sparked the 1st Annual Legends and Spies Procession in Stony Brook, NY with giant historical effigies. And as always we returned to our roots, building a monumental Cabinet of Curiosities for the 44th Annual Halloween Parade, and continuing to develop the Midsummer Pageant in the Italian Alps we began 15 years ago. A busy year culminated with life-sized elephants anchoring the 10th Annual Sinterklaas parade and the return of the beloved Frost Giants to their annual Winter’s Eve ramble around NYC’s Lincoln Center.
Who knows if any of these events will approach the lifespan of the Zvončari? We do know that processions today act as a gathering point for collective, creative action, in a time marked nationally by divisiveness and cynicism. If the Zvončari teach us anything, it is that local community-based performance – with all its clamor and chaos – is a potent and durable art form. As we look back in gratitude to the 2000+ people who took part in PAW’s workshops and performances this year, we welcome your continued support to keep the cowbells ringing in 2018. 
Hoping our paths will cross again in the coming year,
Alex and Sophia


Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami, FL

In June, PAW returned to Miami as artists-in-residence at Vizcaya, the fantastical seaside villa of 1920s industrialist, James Deering. Whereas last year’s performance of Whirl roamed the pristine pathways of Vizcaya’s public gardens, our new project explored the heretofore inaccessible spaces of Vizcaya’s “Village”, a complex of now-derelict buildings, stables, and farmyards that fulfilled Deering’s vision of a self-sustaining model farm community, supporting dozens of resident workers and their families.
To create Bloom, we combed through the 1922 farm diary of Vizcaya garden supervisor I.N. Court. During a week of collaborative workshops, we invited participants to create illuminated objects from a curated menu of diary entries. A precise litany of everyday tasks, agricultural challenges, and human dramas took shape as a glowing retinue of livestock, exotic flora and fauna, farm implements, domestic objects, and architectural details.
On the night of June 27 over 1000 visitors entered the Vizcaya Village, many for the first time, with only illuminated rosebuds to guide their way. Visitors were free to wander, as the long-dormant buildings and grounds slowly came to life with lanterns conjuring the daily life of the Village a century ago. Court’s own words (hauntingly narrated by John Dyer) provided an incantatory soundscape while projections of handwritten excerpts and archival images flickered in dusty windows. For the finale, illuminated panels emerged from the Banyan groves and assembled into a recreation of Vizcaya’s lost Greenhouse. Audience and performers merged and paraded out together beneath a canopy of glowing panes, leaving the Village again in darkness, but looking toward its bright future as Vizcaya’s newest public space.
PAW returns next summer for the third installment of our performance trilogy, exploring the role of maritime fantasy and dread in Deering's vision for Vizcaya. Stay tuned...
See Vizcaya's short video of Bloom....

44th Annual NY Village Halloween Parade

Greenwich Village, NYC

In 1842 PT Barnum stitched the head of a monkey onto a stuffed fish, and the Fiji Mermaid was born. We laugh now, but Barnum’s Museum was the Carnivalesque forerunner of what became the modern science museum. Barnum straddled a past when Cabinets of Curiosity commingled real and imaginary natural relics, and a future when genomic engineering promises to unleash a host of unimaginable hybrids into our midst.
Halloween, of course, revels in hybrids, mash-ups and the frisson of crossed identities. We know, as Mary Shelley did in 1818, that the scariest thing in Frankenstein was not the monster but the Doctor, who dared to create new life from a patchwork of disparate and disembodied parts. Over time, the human urge to re-imagine life has fed obsessions with Sasquatch footprints, Loch Ness Monster snapshots, and Chupacabra crime scenes. The Fiji Mermaid is alive and well, and our collective Cabinet of Wonder has grown exponentially. Where Barnum and Dr. Frankenstein once used needle and thread, today’s molecular biologists now use CRISPR/CAS technology, but the result is the same: the sleep of reason can breed monsters.
So, with Frankenstein’s bicentennial approaching, PAW assembled its own Cabinet of Wonder for NY’s 44th Annual Village Halloween Parade, calling on our creative corps to fill its drawers with monsters of their own devising. Inspired by the Surrealist game of “exquisite corpse”, we invited our team of makers to fill 36 museum cases with a collection of interchangeable heads, bodies, and tails (yielding over 1700 possible permutations). On Halloween Night our bestiary of triptych hybrids set off up Sixth Avenue, periodically assembling into a towering display, then recombining into new creatures, hatched from the Hallowed Halls of Cryptozoology and bound for a brave new world.

See video excerpt from from Cabinet of Curiosities. . .

Raynham Hall Museum, Oyster Bay, NY 

One could hardly ask for better partners in starting a new Halloween tradition than the Raynham Hall Museum, a Colonial-era house in Oyster Bay and the site of many purported ghost sightings.
Last year we helped inaugurate Oyster Bay’s first annual Halloween Parade with 18-foot tall silk figures with faces digitally transposed from Daguerreotypes of Raynham Hall’s 19th-century residents. Organizers expecting a hundred spectators for a new event were amazed when 500 showed up, many in costume and ready to perform.  This year we added another layer of local lore to the parade, paying tribute to Raynham Hall’s Revolutionary War history as home to the legendary Culper Spy Ring. Inspired by reported sightings of British spy Major Andre’s white, spectral horse, we created life-sized, fully animated ghost horses carrying riders in Revolutionary War garb. Predictably, the crowds doubled in size this year, a promising start for a newly seeded tradition with deep local roots.

6th Annual Morningside Lights

Columbia University & Morningside Park

PAW continued its collaboration with Columbia University’s Arts Initiative and Miller Theatre, leading the annual Morningside Lights lantern procession through Harlem’s Morningside Park for the 6th year. For this year's performance, we reached out to local community gardens and urban farms to create The Secret Gardens.
Harlem’s tightly packed grid offers less open space per capita than almost any neighborhood in New York City. Yet nestled within its dense blocks lies an open secret: more than 60 community gardens bloom on formerly vacant lots adopted, tended (and often defended) by local volunteers. Like a weed pushing its way through the crack in the pavement, Harlem’s irrepressible urge to garden (and its deep tradition of civic activism), has seeded a culture of vitality in dozens of neglected lots.
The Secret Gardens honored the tireless, resourceful visionaries who have, lot by lot, shovel by shovel, transformed Harlem from concrete jungle into secret garden. PAW led a week of collaborative lantern-building sessions to create an illuminated landscape populated by the specific flora, fauna and figments of Harlem’s eccentric gardens. Working alongside stakeholders from the McCracken Truce Garden, Brotherhood / Sister Soul, and the Columbia Secondary School Garden, workshop participants got to know Harlem’s hidden horticultural gems first-hand, from those who had grown them. The result was a luminous bounty of 50 giant lanterns many of which, having lit up Morningside Park’s dark pathways for one night, went on to permanent homes in gardens and homes throughout the neighborhood, to seed new community celebrations in the future.
See a short video about The Secret Gardens by Nidal Qanari @ Harlem OneStop....
Get involved or learn more @ official Morningside Lights website

Stony Brook, NY

In August, the Ward Melville Heritage Organization commissioned PAW to create 5 giant figures to spearhead a new procession for their yearly holiday revels. Inspired by the naturalistic portraiture of Spanish gigantes or the bonecos of Brazilian Carnaval, we created 13’- tall articulated puppets of key players in Stony Brook’s long history. The lifelike figures portrayed Revolutionary War spymasters Benjamin Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster, 19th-Century shipping tycoon Jonas Smith, and 20th century philanthropists Ward and Dorothy Melville. Local Youth Corps volunteers created a fleet of Clipper ships and other performing objects, adding another layer of historic context. New creations and new stories are in the works, as we continue to build on Stony Brook’s procession for next year.
PHOTOS: Heidi Sutton


Morinesio, Italy

Our Pageant Puppetry Workshop returns to the Italian Alps in 2018, from June 30 to July 8.
This past summer, when the giant serpent emerged from its customary hiding place behind the cliffside shrine, it was animated by a group of local teenagers led by the mayor’s daughter.  At that moment, we marveled that, 15 years ago, when we began our Puppet Workshop and Midsummer Pageant in the Italian village of Morinesio, most of the kids performing had not yet been born. They have no memory of a Morinesio without puppets, through which they rekindle the personal histories, folklore, and agrarian rituals of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations each year.
The local kids also worked alongside international participants to build the procession in our yearly Pageant Puppetry workshop. Together they breathed new life into Nebbiasa, the menacing fog spirit, revisited the stories of migrant violet-pickers, and introduced the local tale of the priest who shape-shifts into a cat by night. Accompanied by traditional Occitan music, nearly 200 participants turned up to perform the mile-long procession to the old church, with no audience but ourselves to enjoy what has become a seasonal ritual in the Val Maira.
Enrollment is now open for next summer’s workshop (with early bird discounts available). The workshop covers basic techniques in papier-mâché mold-making, bamboo armatures, puppet articulation and movement, and processional choreography. Classes take place amidst stunning mountain vistas, locally-grown gourmet meals, and an evening of Occitan step-dancing with the locals, all culminating in the Midsummer Procession and an all-night Festa.

Join us this summer or learn more ….

Winter's Eve Festival 

Lincoln Square, NYC 

The Frost Giants brought their icy glow back to the streets around New York’s Lincoln Center this November, as signature elements of the 18th Annual Winter’s Eve Festival. Originally created in workshops at NY’s Architectural League, the Futurist-inspired figures now play a key role in New York’s largest outdoor holiday celebration. Moving with a glacial cadence through the crowd of 25,000 spectators, the seven illuminated puppets took some by surprise, while others in the crowd called out to them by name, confirming their growing status as familiar markers of the season’s arrival.  This year’s procession assumed an unexpected political overtone, as the Giants merged briefly with a Black Lives Matter march on the steps of Lincoln Center. Many thanks to our intrepid troupe of 21 puppeteers who braved low-lying branches, dense crowds, and breezy conditions to bring their Giants to life with a flourish of nimble Arabesques, fluid strides, and intimate interactions throughout the evening.

Rhinebeck, NY

Rhinebeck’s eclectic, esoteric and raucous answer to generic holiday clichés celebrated its 10th year in grand style. This year’s Honored Animal was the Elephant – actually two, a mother and child. Drawing an arc from the Hudson Valley’s prehistoric mastodons to the endangered species of today, Sinterklaas director Jeanne Fleming linked the elephant to strong family bonds, mythic memory, and boundless compassion. In local workshops, we wove strands of rattan and basket-reed into life-sized spectral pachyderms, who ambled forward with gait both earthly and ethereal, as befits a creature caught between a mythic past and an uncertain future.
See more images from Sinterklaas...
PHOTOS: Alex H. Wagner  | Douglas Baz


“WOW. I just experienced one of the coolest, most incredible moments of my life. That parade was sensational, absolutely amazing…. I'm still on a high from being surrounded by so many thousands of people, who were DELIGHTED by what they saw.” 
PAW volunteer in NY’s Halloween Parade
When we founded Processional Arts Workshop 10 years ago, we had no idea if it would be even remotely possible to make community processions a sustainable, year-round vocation. All of you – through your dedicated work, your imaginative input, your dynamic performances, and your financial support – have provided the resounding YES, year after year. Affirmations from volunteers like the one above give us new resolve each day, and your donations help us bridge the gaps between projects, research and develop new works, and keep the lights on. Most of all, you make it possible for hundreds of people to come together and share the act of making, creating an art that is far greater than the sum of its parts.
Whether or not you have before, please consider contributing to PAW today. We welcome your support at any level. You can also support PAW simply by shopping on Amazon through the Amazon Smile Program, which redirects a small percentage of every purchase you make to help sustain our work.
Contributions can be sent via PAW's secure Paypal server, or if you prefer, directly to Processional Arts Workshop, Inc. 90 La Bergerie Lane, Red Hook, NY 12571. PAW is a non-profit Federal tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, so all donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. 

PAW  on SOCIAL MEDIA: Come find us!

Nearly 1000 people now follow PAW on Facebook and Instagram. We post updates about projects, show sketches and images from works in progress, post calls for spontaneous performance or workshop opportunities, and share links to Carnivalesque traditions and contemporary artists that have inspired us. Others have started using the hashtag #processionalarts to share their experiences of our work. We continue to send out newsletters and bulletins for major projects, but if you would like to track us more closely, we invite you to tune in to PAW’s Instagram feed or to "Like" our Facebook Page (make sure to turn "Notifications On" if you don't want to miss a post!). 
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Processional Arts Workshop, Inc.
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