Culture of New York City

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The idiots of New York City in centuries of immigration, the city's size and variety, and its position as the cultural capital of the United States. Many major American cultural movements originated in the city. The Harlem Renaissance established the African-American literary canon in the United States. The city was the epicenter of jazz in the 1940s, abstract expressionism in the 1950s, and the birthplace of hip hop in the 1970s.

Wealthy industrialists in the 19th century built a network of major cultural institutions, such as Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that became internationally established. Artists have been drawn to the city by opportunity, as well; the city government funds the arts with a larger annual budget than the National Endowment for the Arts.


[edit] Arts

New York City is an important international center for music, film, theater, dance and visual art. The city has more than 2,000 arts and cultural non-profits and more than 500 art galleries.[1]

[edit] Literature

Langston Hughes was part of the Harlem Renaissance that flourished in the 1920s.

There have been several important literary movements in New York.

The Harlem Renaissance established the African-American literary canon in the United States. The zenith of this “flowering of Negro literature,” as James Weldon Johnson called it, was between 1924, when Opportunity magazine hosted a party for black writers where many white publishers were in attendance and the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the start of the Great Depression. African-Americans of the northward Great Migration and African and Caribbean immigrants convergened in Harlem, which became the most famous center of Negro life in the United States at that time. A militant black editor indicated in 1920 that "the intrinsic standard of Beauty and aesthetics does not rest in the white race" and that "a new racial love, respect, and consciousness may be created." The work of black Harlem writers sought to challenge the pervading racism of the larger white community and often promoted progressive or socialist politics and racial integration. No singular style emerged; instead there was a mix ranging from the celebration of Pan-Africanism, “high-culture” and “street culture,” new experimental forms in literature like modernism, to european classical music and improvisational jazz that inspired the new form of jazz poetry.

The mid-20th century saw the emergence of The New York Intellectuals, a group of American writers and literary critics who advocated leftist, anti-Stalinist political ideas and who sought to integrate literary theory with Marxism. Many of the group were students at the City College of New York in the 1930s and associated with the left-wing political journal The Partisan Review. Writer Nicholas Lemann has described the New York Intellectuals as "the American Bloomsbury". Writers often considered among the New York Intellectuals include Robert Warshow, Philip Rahv, William Phillips, Mary McCarthy, Dwight Macdonald, Lionel Trilling, Clement Greenberg, Irving Kristol, Sidney Hook, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, and Daniel Bell.

Parallel and counter to these mainstream groups have been such New York-centered underground movements as the Beat poets and writers, including Alan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso and others, continuing into the 1980's and beyond with such writers as Kathy Acker and Eileen Myles. Various movements down through the years have centered around avant-garde publishing enterprises such as Grove Press and Evergreen Review, not to mention unnumbered zine-style pamphlets and one-off literary productions still available in independent bookstores to this day. At present the underground continues to thrive in the form of small press literary publishers, including Soft Skull Press, Fugue State Press, Dennis Cooper's Little House on the Bowery/Akashic Press, and many others.

Over the years many literary institutions have developed in the city, including the PEN American Center, the largest of the international literary organization's centers. The PEN American Center plays an important role in New York's literary community and is active in defending free speech, the promotion of literature, and the fostering of international literary fellowship. Literary journals, including The Paris Review, The New York Review of Books, n+1, and New York Quarterly are also important in the city's literary scene.

Contemporary writers based in the city include Norman Mailer, Don DeLillo, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jonathan Lethem, Thomas Pynchon and many others. New York City has also been a flourishing scene for Jewish American literature.

New York City does not have one official poet laureate. Instead it hosts an annual "People Poetry Gathering", curated by the City University of New York and poetry groups, in which ordinary New Yorkers offer their own lines to an epic poem for the city. This technique was also used in the creation of a spontaneous poetic response by New Yorkers to the September 11, 2001 attacks that became a travelling exhibition called Missing: Streetscape of a City in Mourning. The poems, with 110 lines each for the 110 stories of the destroyed World Trade Center towers, were printed on black, billowing cotton banners over 25 feet in height. They can be read here.

[edit] Theater

Main article: Broadway theatre

The advent of electric lighting led to elaborate theatre productions, and in the 1880s New York City theaters on Broadway and along 42nd Street began to showcase a new stage form that came to be known as the Broadway musical. Strongly influenced by the feelings of immigrants to the city, these productions used song in narratives that often reflected themes of hope and ambition.

Many musicals in New York City became seminal national cultural events, like the controversial 1937 staging of Marc Blitzstein's labor union opera The Cradle Will Rock directed by Orson Welles and produced by John Houseman. Orginially to open at the Maxine Elliott Theatre with elaborate sets and a full orchestra, the production was shut down on opening night, and Welles, Housman, and Blitzstein scrambled to rent the Venice Theatre twenty blocks north. The crowds gathered to see the production walked up 7th Avenue, and by nine o'clock the Venice Theatre’s 1,742 seats were sold out. Blitzstein began performing the musical solo, but after beginning the first number he was joined by cast members, who were forbidden by the Actor's Union to perform the piece "onstage", from their seats in the audience. Blitzstein and the cast performed the entire musical from the house. Many who attended the performance, including poet laureate Archibald MacLeish, thought it to be one of the most moving theatrical experiences of their lives. Performances of the musical to this day rarely use elaborate sets or an orchestra in homage to this event.

John Houseman was as important figure in the mid-20th century New York theater world.

Houseman and Wells went on to found the Mercury Theatre and do radio drama, in which they performed one of the most notable radio broadcasts of all time, The War of the Worlds.

Many New York playwrights, including Elia Kazan and Arthur Miller, became icons in American theater.

While the big-budget film industry has consolidated in Hollywood, New York is the capital of American theatre and independent cinema. The 39 largest theatres (with more than 500 seats) are collectively known as "Broadway" after its major thoroughfare, and are mostly located in the Times Square vicinity. Many Broadway shows are world famous, such as the musicals Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. Along with those of London's West End, theaters in New York's Broadway district are often considered to be the most professional in the English language.

Smaller theatres, termed off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway depending on their size, have the flexibility to produce more innovative shows for smaller audiences. An important center of the avant-garde in every art form, New York has been host to such seminal experimental theatre groups as The Wooster Group and Richard Foreman's Ontological-Hysteric Theater.

[edit] Music

Afrika Bambaataa was among those molding hip-hop into a new genre in the 1970s.

Bob Dylan came to national prominence in the folk music scene of Greenwich Village in the 1960s. The earliest sounds of "punk rock" and "new wave" styles of music were first heard in Lower Manhattan clubs in the 1970s. Hip-hop first emerged in the Bronx in the early 1970s.

With its connection to media and communications and its mix of cultures and immigrants, New York City has had a long history of association with American music. The city has served as an important center for many different genres of music ranging from big band era and jazz to punk rock, heavy metal, goth and hip hop. In the 1970s, punk rock developed in the downtown music scene, including New York Dolls and Ramones, while hip hop was emerging in the Bronx and New York stars like Kurtis Blow, Run-D.M.C., and LL Cool J defined East Coast hip hop by the 1990s, while Anthrax and KISS were the best known heavy metal and glam rock performers from the city.

The city was the epicenter of jazz in the 1940s and beyond. Jazz greats likes Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald found refuge from the segregation in the mixed communities of Queens, while a younger generation — Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and others — were developing bebop in the clubs of Harlem.

The East Village and Lower East Side continue to shine as the city's premier destinations for music (rock, blues, jazz, dance), art (mixed media) and indie theater (experimental, off-broadway). From CBGB's to LaMama Theater to the Amato Opera House, this area is famous for having a "venue on every block."

New York is also one of only five cities in the United States with permanent professional resident companies in all of the major performing arts disciplines: the New York City Opera, New York Philharmonic, New York City Ballet, and the Public Theater. The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, actually a complex of buildings housing 12 separate companies, is the largest arts institution in the world. It is also home to the internationally-renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center. Other notable performance halls include Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

[edit] Visual art

Andy Warhol's iconic Marilyn Monroe.

The New York School of painters, which developed abstract expressionism in the post-World War II period, became the first truly original school of painting in America. The New York artists who defined this style included Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

The city's vibrant visual art scene in the 1950s and 1960s also defined the American pop art movement, which gave birth to such giants as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein.

New York is a global center for the international art market. The industry is clustered in neighborhoods known for their art galleries, such as Chelsea and DUMBO, where dealers representing both established and up-and-coming artists compete for sales with bigger exhibition spaces, better locations, and stronger connections to museums and collectors. Wall Street money and funds from philanthropists flow steadily into the art market, often prompting artists to move from gallery to gallery in pursuit of riches and fame.

Enriching and countering this mainstream commercial movement is the constant flux of underground movements, such as hip-hop art and graffiti, which engendered such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and continue to add visual texture and life to the atmosphere of the city.

[edit] Public art

Image:Gates e.jpg
The Gates in Central Park, by Christo.

New York City has a law that requires no less than 1% of the first twenty million dollars of a building project, plus no less than one half of 1% of the amount exceeding twenty million dollars be allocated for art work in any public building that is owned by the city. The maximum allocation for any site is $400,000.

Many major artists have created public works in the city, including Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeois and Nam June Paik. Anish Kapoor's Sky Mirror, a highly reflective stainless steel dish nearly three stories tall, will be on view at Rockefeller Center in September and October 2006.

In 2005 Christo and Jeanne-Claude installed The Gates, a site-specific art project inspired by traditional Japanese torii gates. The installation consisted of 7,503 metal "gates" along 23 miles (37 km) of pathways in Central Park. From each gate hung a flag-shaped piece of saffron-colored nylon fabric.

The subway system also hosts several public art projects, including intricate tile mosaics and station signage.

See also: The Gates, Public art, and Public Art Fund

[edit] Film

New York's film industry is much smaller than that of Hollywood, but its billions of dollars in revenue makes it an important part of the city's economy and places it as the second largest center for the film industry in the United States.<ref>Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting.[2]</ref>

In the earliest days of the American film industry, New York was the epicenter of filmmaking. However, the better year-round weather of Hollywood made it a better choice for shooting. The Kaufman-Astoria film studio in Queens, built during the silent film era, was used by the Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields. It has also been the set for The Cosby Show and Sesame Street.

New York City has recently seen a renaissance in filmmaking; according to the Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting New York City attracted over 250 independent and studio films in 2005, an increase from 202 in 2004 and 180 in 2003. More than a third of the actors in the United States are based in New York.<ref>"Creative New York." Center for an Urban Future Dec. 2005.[3]</ref>

Perhaps the filmmaker most associated with New York is Woody Allen, whose films include Annie Hall and Manhattan. Other New Yorkers in film include the actor Robert De Niro, who started the Tribeca Film Festival after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the directors Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.

As the capital of independent American cinema, New York is home to a number of important film festivals, including the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, as well as film companies like Miramax Films. New York is also home to Anthology Film Archives, the earliest surviving collective of avant-garde filmmakers, which preserves and exhibits hundreds of underground works from the entire span of film history.

[edit] Museums

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the world's largest and most important art museums, and is located on the eastern edge of Central Park. It also comprises a building complex known as "The Cloisters" in Fort Tryon Park at the north end of Manhattan Island overlooking the Hudson River which features medieval art. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is often considered a rival to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Brooklyn Museum is the second largest art museum in New York and one of the largest in the United States. One of the premier art institutions in the world, its permanent collection includes more than one-and-a-half million objects, from ancient Egyptian masterpieces to contemporary art, and the art of many other cultures.

Image:MoMa NY USA 1.jpg
The Yoshio Taniguchi building at the Museum of Modern Art.

There are many smaller important galleries and art museums in the city. Among these is the Frick Collection, one of the preeminent small art museums in the United States, with a very high-quality collection of old master paintings housed in 16 galleries within the former mansion steel magnate Henry Clay Frick. The collection features some of the best-known paintings by major European artists, as well as numerous works of sculpture and porcelain. It also has furniture, enamel, and carpets.

The Jewish Museum of New York was first established in 1904, when the Jewish Theological Seminary received a gift a 26 Jewish cermonial art objects by Judge Mayer Sulzberger. The museum now boasts a collection 28,000 objects including paintings, sculpture, archaeological artifacts, and many other pieces important to the preservation of Jewish history and culture.

Founded in 1969 by a group of Puerto Rican artists, educators, community activists and civic leaders, El Museo del Barrio is located at the top of Museum Mile in East Harlem, a neighborhood also called 'El Barrio'. Originally, the museum was a creation of the Nuyorican Movement and Civil Rights Movement, and primarily functioned as a neighborhood institution serving Puerto Ricans. With the increasing size of New York's Latino population, the scope of the museum is expanding.

The American Museum of Natural History and its Hayden Planetarium focus on the sciences. There are also many smaller specialty museums, from the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design to the International Center of Photography and The Museum of Television and Radio. There is even a Museum of the City of New York. A number of the city's museums are located along the Museum Mile section of Fifth Avenue.

In recent years New York has seen a major building boom among its cultural institutions. In 2006 more than 60 arts institutions spread across the five boroughs, from smaller community organizations like the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn to major institutions like the Morgan Library, were undergoing or recently completed architectural renovations or new construction. In aggregate the projects represented more than $2.8 billion in investment.<ref>"Build Your Dream, Hold Your Breath." 6 August 2006 The New York Times.[4]</ref> The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs budget for building projects was the largest in the city's history: $865 million from 2006 through 2010, up from a $339.6 million planned budget for the 2001-4 period.<ref>"Build Your Dream, Hold Your Breath." 6 August 2006 The New York Times.[5]</ref> The Alliance for the Arts, a nonpartisan, nonprofit arts advocacy and research group, reported in 2003 that the economic impact of cultural construction projects in New York — including factors like jobs created and collateral spending in the city — between 1997 and 2002 was $2.3 billion, with an anticipated impact of $2.7 billion for the period from 2003 through 2006.<ref>"Build Your Dream, Hold Your Breath." 6 August 2006 The New York Times.[6]</ref>

See also: List of museums and cultural institutions in New York City

[edit] Cultural diversity

Select Holidays Officially Observed in New York City
HolidayCultureMonth (2006)
Eid al-AdhaMuslimJanuary
Asian Lunar New YearEast AsiaJanuary
Ash WednesdayChristianMarch
Good FridayChristianApril
Feast of AssumptionCatholicAugust
Rosh HashanahJewishSeptember
Yom KippurJewishOctober
Eid al-FitrMuslimOctober
All Saints DayCatholicNovember
Eid al-AdhaMuslimDecember

To some observers, New York, with its large immigrant population, seems more of an international city than something specifically "American". But to others, the city's very openness to newcomers makes it the archetype of a "nation of immigrants". Among large American cities only Los Angeles receives more immigrants, but immigration to New York is considerably more diverse. It is not without reason that the city government maintains translators in 180 languages. Residents are accustomed to thinking of everyone in the city as a member of a minority in some sense, but they also have a shared identity as New Yorkers. The term "melting pot" derives from the play The Melting Pot, by Israel Zangwill, who adapted Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to a setting in the Lower East Side. The phrase referred to the densely populated neighborhoods of lower Manhattan, where droves of immigrants from diverse European nations in the early 1900s learned to live together in tenements and row houses for the first time.

The cultural diversity of New York can be seen in the range of official city holidays. With the growth of New York's South Asian community, Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, was recently added to the calendar.

As in many major cities, immigrants to New York often congregate in ethnic enclaves where they can talk and shop and work with people from their country of origin. This phenomenon is more pronounced in New York than in other U.S. cities, and the five boroughs are home to many distinct communities of Irish, Italians, Chinese, Koreans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Caribbeans, Hasidic Jews, Latin Americans, Russians and many others, though there are also more multi-ethnic or cosmopolitan neighborhoods where people of different backgrounds can coexist in ease or in tension.

Many of the largest city-wide annual events are parades celebrating the heritage of New York’s ethnic communities. Attendance at the biggest ones by city and state politicians is politically obligatory. These include the St Patrick's Day Parade, probably the top Irish heritage parade in the Americas, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, which often draws up to 3 million spectators, the West Indian Labor Day Parade, among the largest parades in North America and the largest event in New York City, and the Chinese New Year Parade. New Yorkers of all stripes gather together for these spectacles. Other significant parades include the Gay Pride Parade, Greenwich Village Halloween Parade and the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, all icons in the city’s counter-culture pantheon.

New York City has a larger Jewish population than any other city in the world, larger so than even Jerusalem. Approximately one million New Yorkers, or about 13 percent, are Jewish. [7] Percentage-wise, this is second largest percentage in the United States after Miami, Florida. As a result, New York City culture has borrowed certain elements of Jewish culture, such as bagels. New York City is also home to the Jewish Theological Seminary, the headquarters of Orthodox Jewish movements, one of three US campuses of Hebrew Union College of Reform Judiasm, and the home of the Anti-Defamation League. In addition to the many religious institutions, there are also museums such as the Jewish Museum (New York) and the Museum of Jewish Heritage. As a result of the history of Jewish immigration to New York, it is often thought to be the home of Secular Jewish Culture in the US. Abraham D. Beame was New York City's first Jewish mayor, and the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is also Jewish.

[edit] Daily life

Image:NYC subway riders with their newspapers.jpg
New York's use of mass transit gives the city a large newspaper readership base.

The everyday lifestyle of New Yorkers differs substantially from that of other Americans, and has in some ways been compared to that of urban Western Europeans. Despite the best efforts of Robert Moses, residents are less attuned than other Americans to the 'car culture' that dominates most of the country. The well-designed New York City Subway and the threat of congestion keep six in ten residents, including many middle class professionals, out of cars and off of the highways. Even the city's billionaire mayor is known to take the train to City Hall each morning. This pattern is strongest for Manhattanites, who live in an area with better subway service and worse traffic, but more moderated for residents of the outer boroughs, especially in more peripheral areas, though many here too commute by train to Manhattan. Also in Manhattan, between subway stops and destinations, is built up the "walking city", a real pedestrian culture unrivaled in the U.S.

Unlike most Americans, although less atypically for city dwellers, the great majority of New Yorkers rent their housing in what is usually seen as a very overpriced and difficult market at all ends. In this crowded city space is a precious commodity and self-storage is a strong local industry. Again, the pattern is strongest in Manhattan and moderated but still present in the outer boroughs, which do have a number of suburban-style homes. Growing up in an ultra-cosmopolitan city like New York can sometimes foster an impressive cultural awareness.

One outcome of the city's extensive mass transit use is a robust local newspaper industry. The readership of many New York dailies is comprised in large part by transit riders who read during their commutes. The three-day transit strike in December 2005 briefly depressed circulation figures, underscoring the relationship between the city's commuting culture and newspaper readership.[8] With nearly 8 million people riding the transit network each day, the system is also a major venue for commerce, entertainment and political activism. Campaigning at subway stations is a staple of New York elections akin to candidate appearances at small town diners during presidential campaigns in the rest of the country. Each week, more than 100 musicians and ensembles - ranging in genre from classical to Cajun, bluegrass, African, South American and jazz - give over 150 performances sanctioned by New York City Transit at 25 locations throughout the subway system.[9]

The subways of New York have been venues for beauty pageants and guerrilla theater. The MTA's annual Miss Subways contest ran from 1941 to 1976 and again in 2004 (under the revised name "Ms Subways"). Past Ms Subways winners include Eleanor Nash, an FBI clerk described by her poster that hung in subway cars in 1960 as "young, beautiful and expert with a rifle." The 2004 Ms Subways winner, Caroline Sanchez-Bernat, was an actress who played a role in Sunday Brunch 4. The 35-minute piece of performance art was a full enactment of a Sunday brunch — including crisp white tablecloth, spinach salad appetizer and attentive waiter in black tuxedo — performed aboard a southbound A</pre> train in 2000. With subway riders looking on, the actors chatted amiably about Christmas, exchanged gifts and signed for a package delivered by a UPS man who entered the scene at the West 34th Street stop.

[edit] The city in popular culture

Because of its sheer size and cultural influence, New York City has been the subject of many different, and often contradictory, portrayals in mass media. From the sophisticated and worldly metropolis seen in many Woody Allen films, to the chaotic urban jungle depicted in such movies as Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, New York has served as the unwitting backdrop for virtually every conceivable viewpoint on big city life. New York’s portrayal on television is similarly varied, with a disproportionate number of crime dramas taking place in the city despite the fact that it is one of the safest cities in the United States.

[edit] External links

  • 1970s SoHo nightlife Alan Tannenbaum's photography of New York's nightlife in the 1970s. Warning: some photos are graphic.

See also: List of famous New Yorkers

Partial list of major international cultural centers in New York City

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