Jeanne Fleming is an American Celebration Artist from New York, who organized the Harbor Festival Fair in 1986, the Official Land Celebration for the Centennial of the Statue of Liberty and who is currently director of New York's Village Halloween Parade.
Fleming uses pageant-sized puppets – giant rod puppets operated by teams of puppeteers. For Liberty's party in 1986, she "...invited all the great statues of the world to her birthday party and created giant puppets to represent them. Each one arrived accompanied by native music," Fleming explained. The centennial extravaganza lasted three days and drew 12 million people, and is said to have been the largest public event in the US as of that date.
Fleming took responsibility for continuing the Village Halloween Parade in 1985 after its founding artistic director, Ralph Lee, decided to no longer run the event. Fleming had been working with Lee since 1983 and had been a participant in the parade for several years prior to that. In addition to producing new puppets and processional elements, Fleming planned for its future growth by working with five Manhattan neighborhood's community board, local police, residents, sponsors, schools, and community organizations. She is credited for building the parade to its present state; it draws two million spectators and sixty thousand participants.
For the Halloween Parade, Fleming commissions puppet artists to develop and depict annual themes that explore the holiday's historic origins, and its psychic, spiritual, and mythical meanings, focusing on selected aspects from year to year. The notion of Halloween as a night of transformation is often reflected in the themes, as well as ideas of self-expression and community.
In 2001, New York City government and police allowed Fleming to produce the second large-scale event in NYC to take place after 9/11 (the first was the Columbus Day Parade on October 8). Parade puppet designer Sophia Michahelles developed the theme of "Phoenix Rising,” (a reference to the mythical bird that rises up out of its own ashes). For the event, Michahelles created a giant illuminated Phoenix surrounded by lanterns reminiscent of the towers. The 2001 Parade drew fewer spectators than a typical year, but was hailed worldwide as a healing event for the entire City, showing that life would go on and the City was safe for tourists and its own citizens.
Celebration Artist and Producer, Jeanne Fleming and her company Wonderworks have been designing and producing programs, festivals, commercial and non-commercial events since 1970.
At 25, Ms. Fleming, on an experimental grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, created and directed the first regional cooperative arts program in the nation. Under this program, which involved the thirty colleges in the Mid-Hudson area of New York, Fleming designed and produced yearly festivals in art, music, drama, dance, film, poetry, the culinary arts and video which involved residencies of many major artists in all these fields. The program also included an arts touring program in every discipline funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts.
Since that initial groundbreaking venture, Ms. Fleming has worked not only as a consultant in establishing cooperative arts programs, but also as a festival designer and producer for events including private parties, events for hotels and small towns, movie shoots, and commercial events,and major New York City and international events. Having graduated with a BA from Bard College in Medieval Studies and having a longtime interest in the arts, culture, society and history, most of Fleming's original event designs involve a great deal of historical and literary research, as well as extensive grass roots work with local art, historical, educational and governmental institutions. She is one of a small group of celebration artists who devote their lives to creating meaningful public celebrations for our time. She has designed hundreds of major events, including the largest event ever to be held in the nation – The Harbor Festival '86, the Official New York City Public Celebration for the Centennial of the Statue of Liberty. This three-day event drew 12 million people and involved the construction of 9 major stages, over 3,000 performers, 10 parades daily, dozens of special events, the construction of over 400 specially designed vendor booths and a staff of close to 500 people. Harbor Festival '86 is considered one of the finest festivals of American folk life and immigrant traditions ever presented.
She was the designer and producer for "Walking On Air", the Grand Opening of the Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, NY, which was a Signature Event during the Hudson/Fulton/Champlain Quadricentennial Anniversary in 2009. As designed, the Walking On Air event was regional in focus and consisted of a year of educational and creative visual arts programs with the 50 communities on both sides of the Hudson River in Dutchess and Ulster Counties, NY, culminating in 2 days of celebrations including a Grand Parade and an International VIP Grand Opening Ceremony.
In 2008 she re-designed and produced what The New Yorker called the “most beautiful Christmas celebration we have ever seen,” entitled Sinterklaas ! An Old Dutch Tradition in Rhinebeck. Originally conceived by Fleming in 1985, the project includes a Children’s Torchlight Parade, dozens of workshops, performances, and events whose goal is bring the disparate elements of the Town of Rhinebeck together in a creative and joyful way in celebration of its children.
Between 1996-99 she directed the 650th Anniversary of the town of Nowy Targ, Poland; a month-long program involving American and Balinese craftsmen in puppet construction culminating in a procession for the World Bamboo Festival in Bali; an Iroko Tree Ceremony with the Mothers-of-Saint from Bahia, Brazil; and The Making, Baking and Breaking of Bread, a community project that involved the construction of a working replica of a Medieval community bread oven; and Presente de Yemanjá, a tribute to the Hudson River on the historic Rokeby Estate in Barrytown, NY and based on African/Brazilian traditions ; Ogun, a tribute to the forests of the Hudson Valley and the Ibeiji––A Celebration of Twins. She also designed Flash of the Spirit, an Arts-in-Education Program that explores African and Afro-American Cultures.
In 1993 she created an ongoing major tourism agenda for New York City called HALLOWEEK which involves 55 public, private and business sponsors for a week-long series of Halloween-related events, including "safe-zones’’ for children in the City to trick-or-treat. In recognition of the economic impact of this idea on NYC, Mayor David M. Dinkins proclaimed in perpetuity that "October 24–31 will be HALLOWEEK in New York City in perpetuity." This tourism initiative is funded by the Manhattan Borough President and the NYC Mayor’s Office of Tourism.
In addition to the events above, she has designed and produced Independence Day 1984 and 1985 for New York City; New York’s Village Halloween Parade (1982-to present, 30 years ), a major New York City event; the 42nd St. River to River Festival; A Special Night on 53rd Street; and major events for small towns including the 300th Anniversary of the Town of Rhinebeck, N.Y. which involved six months of special programs, culminating in an old time country fair that was described by reviewers as creating an environment that made spectators and participants feel as if they were in the Land of Oz. Wonderworks has been involved in 6 projects for children: Kidsarts in the Apple, a two-day festival celebrating the creativity of city kids and the myriad arts-in-education programs in New York City; the 20th Anniversary Retrospective of the Touchstone Center for Children which involved conferences, special events, and publications; Let the River Connect Us, an award- winning Arts in Education program funded by the New York State Council on the Arts in the Rhinebeck Central School System that involved video, painting, sculpture, poetry, theater, music and Native American culture; the International Catholic Children's Bureau in designing two national conferences: Children and AIDS and Creativity: A Step Toward Spiritual Growth in the Child; for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC Mothers and Daughters, a Midsummer Celebration; Simple Beauty, an Arts in Education program that taught children the most advanced theories in physics through the arts; and a spring event for Belvedere Castle in New York's Central Park; and the Festa dos Ibeji, a Celebration of Children, particularly Twins.
Wonderworks has also designed and produced hundreds of smaller events. For example, the Opening Parade Event for the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival and a series of Special Weekends for the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY that included many original ideas including a Murder Mystery Weekend with Edward Gorey and Isaac Asimov; a Chamber Music Weekend; Explore the Tiny (Small is Beautiful); Star Parties with Carl Sagan; a Chocolate Lover’s event and many more that continue to be featured events at the Mountain House to this day.
Ms. Fleming has given the keynote address at the Henson International Puppetry Festival, the national conference of the Association of College, University and Community Arts Administrators (ACUCAA) and has given lecturers at New York University, Sarah Lawrence College, Bard College and the Omega Institute on festivals, celebrations and processional art. She also taught in the Gifted Students Program at the Rhinebeck High School and worked with local teenagers on the design, fund-raising and realization of a much needed teen center.
Articles and essays on her work have appeared in Design Quarterly, The Journal of American Folklore and the NYU Performance Studies Journal, The New Yorker, and The New York Times, and Puppetry International to name a few. She has been named “New Yorker of the Week” by both Time Warner NY1 News and New York Newsday and has had a Profile in the NY Times. A book has been written about New York’s Village Halloween Parade entitled Masked Culture as well as numerous scholarly articles. Many documentaries about the Halloween Parade have been made over the years, and in 2007 a special segment was produced by The History Channel.
In addition to the design and production of events, Ms. Fleming has acted as a consultant to arts councils, not-for-profits, schools, towns, states and many, many events and is known for her astute awareness of technical matters, marketing, logistical planning, fund-raising and careful management of budgets—be they small or into the millions of dollars. When not producing events, Ms. Fleming writes and directs her own large-scale outdoor theater pieces; is a storyteller; and has been recognized as one of America's Top 500 Craftspeople, having shown her original fashion designs at all American Craft Enterprises exhibitions, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution.
In her 35 year career in the world of celebration, she has worked with literally thousands of performers, visual artists, clergy, architects, business, government and community people of every walk of life. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband and son.