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The cutting-edge art of Infringment

In an already crowded summer festival calendar, Buffalo’s unique, wildly diverse Infringement Festival stands out. This year, the multi-genre art festival will span eleven days from Thursday, July 22 to Sunday, August 1 at more than fifteen venues, including several Allentown locations and spots on the East Side of Buffalo and the Broadway Market.

The Infringement Festival is not your typical arts festival, as its film and media organizer Jason Klinger is quick to mention. “Most arts festivals are really crafts fairs. We have pottery people and jewelry people, but they’re local artists, they didn’t have to buy a tent to get in. You’re going to see cutting-edge art from real local artists that hopefully can give you an emotional impact. You’re not going to get an emotional reaction walking down a street looking at some guy's wooden horses that he makes on the weekends.”

The festival hosts a diverse assortment of artistic forms, with separate organizers handling the hundreds of theater, dance, poetry, music, comic, film (including two full-length features), and visual arts acts, mostly from the Buffalo area. But its roots lie in two festivals in Canada and one in Bordeaux, France; it was originally conceived as a response to the Fringe Festival which is a high-end exclusive international arts festival backed by corporate sponsors.

In 2004 Kurt Schneiderman, founder Buffalo’s Subversive Theater Collective, saw a performance by the theater group who helped found the Montreal Infringement Festival.  He set up Buffalo’s first Infringement extravaganza the following summer, and since then the event has grown exponentially to become the largest of all the Infringement Festivals.

The organizers take great pride that they are able to put on such an enormous festival through a totally grassroots, we-do-it-ourselves effort. Melissa Campbell, the festival’s PR person, says “we do fundraisers throughout the year. This year we started an official T-shirt, and we have other merchandise we try to peddle. We sell ad space at really cheap prices … If Dunkin’ Donuts was to come to us and offer us $5,000, we would say no.” Klinger adds that “it would hurt like hell; our whole operating cost for one year is about $5,000.” But, he admits, “it’s what keeps us honest.”

He is also quick to point out that the festival puts a lot of money back into WNY. “It’s good for businesses,” he says, “and we don’t just schedule for galleries. We’ll put artists in restaurants, on street corners … The money goes back into the community. It doesn’t go to some guy who just drives in for the weekend, sets up a tent and then drives off to the next art festival without spending any money.”

But money is not the focus—the art is. Artists are not charged for being part of the festival, they take home any money they make from selling merchandise, and the festivals mantra is never to reject anybody’s work as long as it won’t physically harm anyone. Klinger says the festival’s goal is “putting the power back in the hands of the artists. We try to remind everyone that art is supposed to be fun, and free, and expressive. It’s art for art’s sake.”

More information and a full schedule of the festival’s over 700 performances can be found at the Buffalo Infringement Festivals website, www.infringebuffalo.org.

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