Art Will Help Reshape How We Cope With Death in New York’s First ‘Reimagine End of Life’ Festival

The program includes participation from Janine Antoni, Roz Chast, and Jonas Mekas.

Promo image for "In Conversation: Art and Grief," an event hosted by MoMA and the Dinner Party, set for October 27

For all that death is an inevitability, the topic remains largely taboo, generally tiptoed around in polite conversation. The Reimagine End of Life festival looks to change all that this Halloween season, staging a week-long series of over 250 cultural events and programs designed to explore death, grief, and mourning, featuring artists and art institutions.

Reimagine End of Life was founded by Brad Wolfe. Though his grandparents survived Auschwitz, he conceived of the festival as a response to the death of a close friend during college, as he played music at her bedside to help ease her passing. The festival was first held in San Francisco in April where it attracted 10,000 attendees.

“In a time of so much division, death is one thing we all share that can bring together people from all walks of life,” said Wolfe in a statement. “Our goal is to inspire New Yorkers to reflect on why we’re here, prepare for a time when we won’t be, and live fully right until the end. When you enable people to have this conversation as a community, in creative and surprising ways, they often discover that something sad and dark can also elicit laughter, joy, and celebration.”

Over 100 exhibitions are planned for New York’s version of the festival, as well as more than 30 performances, some 60 “interactive rituals,” 15 comedy shows—and, as the website says, “1 universal topic.”

Exploring the close link between love and loss, artist Janine Antoni will lead a walk at Brookyln’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery. Morgan Brown, whose mother died in a car crash when the artist was just 22, will use a small administrative office at Union Theological Seminary to help audience members hold one-way phone conversations with lost loved ones for her project Conversations I Wish I Had.

At ChaShaMa, Spencer Merolla’s exhibition “After a Fashion: The Funeral Clothes Project” features artworks made from clothing that people stopped wearing after the death of a loved one, due to the garment’s close association with loss.

Talks set for Reimagine End of Life include New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, who wrote and illustrated a best-selling book, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, about her aging parents’ decline, at JCC Manhattan. Jonas Mekas, the 95-year-old filmmaker, discusses life, creativity, and purpose at Anthology Film Archives with author and New York Times journalist John Leland.

A page from Roz Chast's <em>Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant?</em>. Courtesy of the artist.

A page from Roz Chast’s Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant?. Courtesy of the artist.

Reimagine End of Life will also tap into New York City history, with artist Elizabeth Velazquez holding a ritual for the dead at Washington Square Park, which was a Potter’s Field where thousands of poor people were buried in the 18th century. Art journalist Allison C. Meier will also team up with the late lamented Morbid Anatomy Museum on a colonial walking tour of Manhattan.

Other events will be held at venues including the Museum of Modern Art, the Parsons School of Design, BRIC, the New York Public Library, and the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. Senior centers, hospitals, and houses of worship have also been pressed into service to host.

The festival’s programming also includes comedy nights, concerts, and film screenings, as well as workshops on how to write condolence letters—or your own obituary—and make sure your end-of-life wishes will be upheld. Reimagine End of Life has set aside 10 percent of all tickets to community organizations that work with the elderly.

Reimagine End of Life will take place at venues across New York City, October 27–November 3, 2018. Events require RSVP; about half are free of charge. 

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