Each spring, Coney Island USA, a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to preserving the past and future of Coney Island, N.Y., convenes the Congress of Curious Peoples. The 10-day gathering draws unique individuals to the group's historic building, which features Sideshows by the Seashore on the first floor and the Coney Island Museum on the second level. The event is a collaboration of Dick Zigun, the executive artistic director of Coney Island USA, and Aaron Beebe, director of the Coney Island Museum.
The Congress of Curious Peoples is a mixture of lectures about sideshows and related phenomena by academics and live performances by some of the top sideshow acts around. The upstairs/downstairs setup provides a rare opportunity to explore the historical, artistic and political aspects of the sideshow through performances, exhibitions and films by noteworthy artists, academics and other curious people.
Michael Webster's essay explores the dual meaning of the phrase "Curious People." One meaning is straight out of the dictionary. The other is a euphemism for "freaks." Some curious people are curious about curious people. Others are curious people in and of themselves. When the curious meet the curious, when upstairs meets downstairs, when cool intellect meets raw emotion, the results are often very strange.