Sure, May is when weekend warriors flood the East Village and LES in search of al fresco booze, but it’s also a time for locals to celebrate what really makes their neighborhoods great, via these festivals.
LES History Month
Throughout May at various venues in the East Village, Lower East Side, and Chinatown; see the calendar
If you’re a downtown buff, the slate of programming here is almost overwhelming. Among the highlights: Metropolitan Playhouse’s annual East Side Stories series will feature a dozen new plays and performances based on East Village history and issues, including one about the Tompkins Square Park riots; the Ukrainian Festival returns to East 7th Street on May 15; local fixtures like John Giorno, Frances Goldin, Penny Arcade, and Bob Holman will read stories and poems, most of them LES-inspired; there’ll be walking tours of Chinatown, Noho, the Merchant’s House Museum, Henry Street Settlement, area community gardens, and “the heroines of the LES”; and panel discussions featuring local denizens like Clayton Patterson and Puma Perl. To top it all off, there’ll be a block party honoring the 75th anniversary of Essex Street Market.
May 22 to 24 at 710 East 9th St., East Village
This festival hosted by neighborhood stalwart Luis Guzman at the recently revamped Loisaida Center honors the cultural contributions of Alphabet City’s Latin community. On Friday, a cabaret will feature live performances by the likes of poet Emanuel Xavier and actor Jorge Merced as well as footage from old-timers like Miguel Algarin, founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café. Saturday, drag performer Mario Montez and performance artist Alina Troyano (a.k.a Carmelita Tropicana) will be honored with screenings of The Life, Death, and Assumption of Lupe Velez and Ela Troyano’s Your Kunst Is Your Waffen. And on Sunday, Guzman will host an awards ceremony with a carnival procession and sets from salsa and Latin soul artists.
Lower East Side Festival of the Arts
May 22 to 24 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, bet. 9th and 10th Sts., East Village
The 20th annual installment of this fest put on by Theatre for the New City (actually in the East Village, but old-timers know it as the Lower East Side) promises a “multi-cultural cavalcade” of theater, dance, music, film, art and comedy. TNC describes the fest as a “tribute to all the artists who lived and created on the Lower East Side and in the East Village in the past, a showcase for its current stars, and a glimpse at its up and coming talent of the future.” There’ll be screenings, poetry readings and other performances inside of theater and, on Saturday from noon to 5pm, an outdoor party on 10th Street with food vendors and still more performances.
May 28-30 inside and outside of New Museum, 235 Bowery
With its focus on urban planning, this festival put on by the New Museum since 2011 is probably the most heady of the bunch, but its 100+ events should make for plenty of fun. It kicks off Thursday with a conference featuring civic visionary Lawrence Lessig and others. On Friday, there’ll be dance battles, poets reading sonnets about the state of the union, interviews with displaced Harlem residents set to live music, and gentrification-themed performances by Danny Hoch and Penny Arcade. Saturday’s grand finale is a street festival consisting of these oddities: a “hands-on bacteria-printing workshop, making New York City’s microbiome visible and accessible”; a Mayan Ball Game Tournament that will “mash the ancient Mesoamerican sport with New York City street basketball”; and walking tours on everything from tenants’ rights to the “presence of pigeons on the Lower East Side.”