N.Y.Cultural Cruise Control
I‘ve decided to take a stab at a more structured arts inquiry today, thanks to discovery of the Spring for Music “Great Arts Blogger” competition. Thank you for taking time to read my blog, I hope you gain something from what I say here.
Note: I would really appreciate it if you could vote for this post via the Spring for Music Contest page, starting today. (And if you really like it, don’t hesitate to share my writing with a friend!)
**Voting for the first round is open until Thursday, March 29th.** THANK YOU!
“New York (City) has long been considered the cultural capital of America. Is it still? If not, where?”
Upon initial consideration of the depth to this question, there are some crucial distinctions that I had to remember to make. This is an explorative question within America itself; not a comparison to the entire international scene. Quite the dissertation it would be if the question included all of the world.
All the same, after some additional thought, it occurred to me that comparing NYC arts to the “mere” rest of America isn’t much of a reduction in analysis and nothing to shake a stick at when answering. The reason? New York City is like the entire world -or at least a very well packed geographical paraphrasing of it, if you will.
My short answer to the question, as it is a basic yes or no premise:
Yes. New York City is still considered the cultural capital of America.
However, superficial considerations and impressions aren’t everything. In truth, I believe when one digs down to the substance of what actually occurs in NYC, that the metropolis may not have as much immortal stature as its legacy can attempt to claim, thereby almost making my answer a simultaneous “no.” Well, pretty much anyway. Let me explain this dichotomy of a response.
Despite the fact that there are a myriad of ways the scenario of cultural capitalism can be discussed, quantified and debated, my reasoning here focuses on the history, reputation and (essentially) perpetual motion that New York City has obtained over the decades. Home to the American icon, France’s gift, the Statue of Liberty
, and its mutually iconic harbor neighbor Ellis Island
, let’s remember that New York City and the concept of “coming over on the boat” was
a reality for “over 12 million immigrants”
between 1892 and 1954.
The hopes and dreams of so many countries, so many individual lifestyles and family heritages, laid down a foundation in New York City that set it apart as epitomizing the U.S. melting pot theory
; mostly boosting America’s welcoming image to the rest of the world. (Give me your tired, you poor, your huddled masses…etc. etc.) Though not perfect, as is evident by the cultural enclaves grown from conversely isolating behavior
exhibited toward certain racial groups, the positive idea of ubiquitous cross-exposure and change giving way to “a new [cultural and uniquely American] compound” (Cit.
Hollinger, David, HERE
) has been considered as one perceivable result of the large wave of immigration, as opposed to the more narrow, domineering and negative idea of “melt[ing] down the immigrants…into pre-existing social and cultural molds, modeled on Anglo-Protestants[.]” (Cit. Ibid.
Indeed, New York City has managed to nurture many an ethnic background and much of the cultural trimmings that come along with them, which can include artistic traditions. The areas and ‘neighborhoods’ that carry some type of ethnic distinction in New York City reach at least a notable double digit figure
that is hard to mirror in many other places around the country -even more so if you break down the generalizations (e.g. Latin American) to further individualized nations, like Little Brazil
Even as a person who is so close to New York City that regular visits are not out of the question, as is so often said by other frequent visitors, (and even inhabitants,) there is so much of the city I haven’t yet seen first hand. Right there, that very statement, I believe, is one of the reasons New York City is able to easily maintain its reputation as America’s cultural capital. Ellis Island and its large immigration wave are long over, but it’s definitely not commonplace to ‘see it all.’ Street after street and person after person is unique in appearance, beliefs, occupation, race and artistic preference. This reality gives way to the ongoing reveling in opportunity that still comes with immigration (or just plain in-country moving,) today. If you haven’t seen or experienced it all in New York City, then why move onto something new from there prematurely, right?
Here’s where my mention of perpetual motion gains relevance. The breadth of nations represented in New York City lends itself to just about as many art forms; whether visual or theatre, music or dance and don’t even get me started on food… So whether you’re coming into the city from another continent or simply one time zone over from another state, it’s easy to fall back on the steadfast condition of NYC’s ever changing diversity, whether you’re trying to “make it” in the arts world or just experience it as a patron. Nothing surprises in New York. (Sometimes to the detriment of attempted “New Yorker jadedness reduction”) Hence, even if closer views of NYC artistic activity sometimes leave less than desired in terms of cultural front running and innovation, the city can easily coast by during ‘artistic innovation dry spells,’ when stacked against a temporarily more noted part of the country, on the massively appealing kinetic energy of its continuously reinvigorated, diverse population.
However, beyond historical roots and instant appeal to NYC’s constant change, I think arts and culture administrators, artists and patrons/audiences alike, have to take off the rose colored glasses and understand that ‘culturally crowded coasting’ alone, doesn’t necessarily make or sustain you as a capital for culture. I’m not of the belief that NYC would or could ever completely
lose its footing in the arts world as a place for large scale possibilities, simply because the sheer volume of businesses does mean something.
Nonetheless, volume and even density don’t always make a capital. Washington D.C.
should serve as a nice example of that -with less than a million residents, as compared to the 8,000,000+ of NYC.
Other landmark cities in America, like Austin
, Los Angeles
and even D.C., have flushed out plenty in terms of cultural poignancy and innovation. (SXSW
, Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival
, The ReThink Music Conference
and The Smithsonian “Art of Video Games Exhibition”
to name a few longer term and newer examples respectively.) Intermittent but palpable
buzz, followed by highly anticipated action
, may become the new ideal for the representative alpha
in America’s arts and culture pack. Think of it as any major city with an inherited image and association. I say Paris, you say… Romance. (I’m sure at least one of you was thinking it!) Pause for a moment and realize that connection probably comes without necessarily requiring any particularly new action on Paris’s part. Paris just has to be Paris and people will still think it’s a romantic city. The descriptor may be valid but will that one static mentality keep it an active leader? The same goes for New York City –which is still well regarded as a capital on the American surface– but murmurs below the surface may slowly reveal a passing of the cultural torch.