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Wandering Visions take 2: History of the Vision Festival
by Steve Dalachinsky

".....a paradise of flowers where peace might build her nest." - Percy Shelly

For 13 years the Vision Festival has led a nomadic existence.  Wandering from one venue to another, this brave band of Visionaries, which I am proud to be a part of, with the ever-present, stalwart & persistent Patricia Nicholson Parker at the helm & a sometimes shifting cast of characters amongst the faithful, has plodded thru the institutionalized, gentrified, money-hungry waters of the lower east side bringing with it always a sense of unity, community & creativity in the arts.
The festival is a floating institution of architects without a permanent structure yet with all the blueprints ever needed to perfect the perfect architecture.  One of harmony and productive Utopian ideals, surviving all the adversities that follow something new, vibrant, anti-commercial & fiercely independent.
Its roots go way back into jazz history.  Mingus's Newport Rebels in
the 1960's.  Such organizations as The AACM out of Chicago and Black Artist's group from St. Louis.  And here at home, the Loft Jazz scene with such venues as Sam Rivers' Studio Rivbea that produced the famous Wildflowers sessions.  Studio We.  Environ.  Lady's Fort.  Rashied Ali's Ali's Alley.  Ornette's Artist House on Prince Street.  The Sound Unity Festival in the mid-80's.  The Stork Festival and Vision's direct parent, The Improvisers Collective in the early '90s. 

What makes these unique is that they were completely  artist-run. Most, though, as with Mingus' attempt, were short lived and some, like with Rivers and Ornette had "permanent" homes.

After two years of presenting mixed media concerts at The Improvisers Collective, dancer/choreographer Patricia Nicholson Parker along with saxophonist Assif Tsahar decided to go for broke and begin an all-out inter-disciplinary festival that would last for more than a week.  Since then it has ranged in scope from five to eleven days and began to
include commisioned pieces as well as praise days for special musicians both living and dead each year, such as Jimmy Lyons, Fred Anderson, Billy Higgins, Bill Dixon and this year the legendary Kidd Jordan.

Most of the money has been raised privately or through grants.  And it can be said that this is the first time in U.S. history that an artist-run not-for-profit "Avant-garde" jazz festival has survived  this long "with minimal marketing, careful budgeting and consistently high caliber performances."  It has at this point become an international phenomena and now many  festivals around the world include in their programs a Vision night.
Originally called Vision for the 21st Century (a name it has more than lived up to), the festival began at the Learning Alliance (Lafayette and Houston St.) in 1996 moved to The Angel Orensanz Foundation (Norfolk St.), where it has been presented most frequently and then to such venues as the basement of St. Nicholas of Myra Church (10th St. & Ave. A) in 1999, the former Electric Circus (New Age Cabaret, 23 St. Markís Pl.) in 2000, the new Knitting Factory (74 Leonard St.) in 2001, back to Orensanz then on to St. Patrickís Youth Center (268 Mulberry St.), then back to Orensanz and now this year to Clemente Soto Velez (Rivington and Suffolk St.)  It  has also spawned several spin off series that continue all year round.
Here's a sampling of some past participants:

Musicians: Bill Dixon, William Parker, Fred Anderson, Milford Graves, Charles Gayle, Matthew Shipp, John Zorn, Thurston Moore, Yo La Tengo, Marilyn Crispell, Cat Power, Henry Grimes, Joelle Leandre, Sabir Mateen, Dave Burrell, Sunny Murray and Daniel Carter.

Dancers: Yoshiko Chuma, Trevor Offut, K.J. Holmes, Gus Solomon, Parker
herself, Elaine Shippman.

Visual Artists: Richard Nonos, Alain Kirili, Yuko Otomo, Luccio Pozzi, Kiki Smith, Marilyn Sontag, Katie Martin, Jeff Schlanger, Kazuko Miyamoto, Jorgo Schaffer and Jo Wood Brown.

Poets:  Jayne Cortez, Amiri Baraka, Daniel Berrigan, Tracy Morris, Bob Holman, Edwin Torres, David Budbill, Chavisa Woods, and Steve Cannon.

Many of the artists, too numerous to mention, from the above categories, have at various times collaborated together to create inter-disciplinary works.

This yearís Vision Festival will run from June 10 - 15th and though it leans heavily toward music, it will, as always, present dance, poetry and visual art.  Two theaters will be employed.  One for music, the other for dance and poetry, while both will exhibit two massive installations.  Some of the artists included are: Oliver Lake, Hamiuett Bluiett, Yoshiko Chuma, James Spaulding.

We would all hope to aspire to the credo "IN ORDER TO GIVE PEACE YOU MUST HAVE PEACE" as Albert Ayler so aptly put it and that waging war in the name of peace is just not the paving stone of Unity.  We all know that
itís about building.  Communicating.  Working together for the greater good.  Playing together in a big band in this big brutal sandbox in the most musical, magical ways possible.

                                  The WAYS of CREATIVITY.

Touching the spaces of peopleís lives with the deepest chords imaginable.  Making connections.  Always connecting somehow. This is not scientific but IS about the science of LOVE and deep deep friendship in all its possible combinations. JOY. ANGER. SADNESS. FRUSTRATION.
Itís about human beings searching in an ever-expanding world that, still in the 21st century, is out of touch with itself and has so little knowledge of its own creative forces & infinite possibilities for growth in a non-consumerist, productive way.  Itís about seeking that way. Finding that way. 

It is almost Miraculous in the true sense of the word that the Vision
Festival is celebrating its 13th anniversary.  I've had "Visionitis" for quite some time and I hope it never goes away.  So I leave you with the usual chant:  LISTEN. OPEN UP YOUR EARS and LISTEN.

A shorter version of this piece first appeared in The Brooklyn Rail.

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