Contest asks: Is NY still the U.S. cultural capital? And if not, what has replaced it?

Douglas McLennan, ArtsJournal blog Diacritical, 3/20/21

Spring For Music is a new organization [and] one of its goals is to encourage more conversations about culture in general. This month, S4M announced a "Great Arts Blogger Challenge," a competition intended to give some exposure to some of [the estimated] 300,000 culture blogs. There's a small prize: $2,500 and tickets to all six S4M concerts this May [at New York's Carnegie Hall]. Why a competition? Because as reductive as they sometimes are, they also help shine attention. So we came up with the idea for a contest. Ask bloggers to write about a common topic and see what they come up with (entry deadline is today at midnight). How to pick [topics]? The best are those that provoke, those that make you mad or want to push back and express a strong belief, argue. That's what the first question is intended for: "New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America. Is it still? If not, where?"


FROM TC: Here are some entries I found online...


Commentary: Los Angeles is the primary source of creation for U.S. culture

Brian Holt, Out West Arts blog, 3/19/12

[T]earing down the New York arts scenes or building up some other city's isn't the kind of Marxist examination of political economy I care to engage in. And as much as I love the benefits of a "highly competitive format" as much as the next guy, I think there are far more important and interesting questions and considerations to make about the culture of North America. Still, there is an invitation here to think about my own beloved, schizophrenic Los Angeles, and the way it has created itself and the rest of America -- if not the world -- up until recently. Although it's an era that is rapidly drawing to an end, it is Los Angeles, in a geographic sense, and Hollywood in a metaphorical one, that has been preeminent in the latter half of the 20th century, not so much as a site of access to culture, but as the source of creation for all of the consumers of that culture to begin with. The advent of mass-oriented film and television businesses that make L.A. an industry town has done more than just create cultural artifacts to be consumed by a worldwide audience. In fact, it is the euphemistically titled "entertainment industry" that has itself created America and the Americans that inhabit if for several generations. It is Los Angeles that has been the primary source of mass-produced images that have defined virtually every aspect of American lives psychologically until perhaps just the last few years. For example, Verdi and Wagner both had plenty to say about families that still resonates with audiences today. But I would argue for better or worse a string of images from The Cleavers to the Karsashians have exerted far more comprehensive power over how Americans imagine themselves a part of a family or not.


Commentary: The Internet is now the cultural capital of the world

Also Sprach FraKathustra blog, 3/19/12

Is [NY] still the cultural capital of America? If that is defined by the number and quality of cultural events, the number of tickets sold, the number of artists residing there, or other similar criteria, then the answer must be a resounding "yes." [But] I would say that's a poor measure to use. In terms of cultural influence and leadership, I think the answer is a resounding "no," and here's why: in the [20th century], New York set the pace in the arts. The artists in that city were the undisputed leaders in their fields. Artists and audience alike cared about what was happening in New York. Today, however, there is no more ripple effect from New York's arts scene -- the loudly heralded "new works" no longer capture the attention of the arts communities around the country. Sure, there's a token "buzz" about this new work or that one, but it fades as quickly as the marquee lights. As a repository of great music, dance, and art, New York has no equal. As a cultural capital, it has been replaced by something even more chaotic, anarchic, diverse, open, disgusting, and accessible by more people than any city could ever be: the Internet. It is the great leveler that has decentralized the creation, consumption, and criticism of art. No longer can one city or one country dictate or even suggest what direction art will go. The Internet allows anyone and everyone to partake of the arts as they wish, while also making the creation of art open to all socio-economic classes. It's the place where billions of people can create and disseminate their art for almost no cost, and expose it to billions of potential fans, who can critique and recommend it freely and openly.


Commentary: Who cares? We should wants culture for everyone, everywhere

'Zerbinetta' on her blog Likely Impossibilities, 3/20/12

To start with, I've lived in the greater NYC orbit for most of my life. I love and hate many things about New York, but don't see the point in waving its flag over other American cities that I don't know much about. What I'd like to concentrate on here is why this particular question is crap (er... highly problematic?) and we shouldn't be asking it. Spring for Music seems to like contests. This one replicates their festival, in which orchestras apply to play in Carnegie Hall and thus win FAME AND FORTUNE! Just kidding, this is classical music. A little while ago my hometown orchestra went to Carnegie Hall. They sponsored a bus for locals to go hear them conquer the big city. They said it was a monument to their prestige. But you know what? They disbanded last year, one of the casualties of the recession. What good had Carnegie Hall done for them? Spring for Music's contest is March Madness. I have no idea what any answer to this question could tell us, and its framing plays into the American love of contests as well as the current mania for donut-shaped analysis. We should want lots of culture for everyone, everywhere. And that's why this comparative question is silly, even destructive. It's not in comparison that art is important, it's how it exists in its own habitat. It's the difference it makes in the daily lives of its residents, how it strengthens civil society.


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FROM TC: This post wasn't written in response to the contest, but is relevant to the topic:


Commentary: Making the case for Washington D.C. as cultural haven

Gwydion Suilebhan on his blog, 3/19/12

I don't know what it's like to be a playwright in New York; I've never done it. (And I don't intend to.) I sometimes think all the competition must make it stressful. Of course, New York also sometimes seems like the land of plenty: opportunities, collaborators, shows to see, and so on. I'm sure it comes with more than its fair share of benefits, or we wouldn't have so many playwrights living there. Chicago also seems like a good place to be a playwright. I'm sure L.A. isn't bad, either, if only for the opportunity to work with so many gifted actors and directors and the possibility of screenwriting gigs. Minneapolis also seems to have a lot going for it (despite recent conflicting reports). San Francisco seems terrific in its own way, as does Boston, and maybe Seattle -- I wonder about them all. After more than a decade in DC, however, I'm not sure I'd trade my home here for any other part of the country. Things have been starting to change. I now find myself surrounded by playwrights. We've started to peaceably assemble, both virtually and in real life, and it feels good. What's come of that energy? Happy hour gatherings. An artistic speed-dating event. A DC playwrights slam at the Kennedy Center. Another slam at the Intersections Festival. The newly-expanded DC-Area Writers Showcase from the National New Play Network. The Beltway Drama Series. The DC Queer Theatre Festival. And more to come. The feeling of scarcity in the new play sector, I have found, sometimes tends to make playwrights competitive with one another. Here in DC, though, we've started to overcome that negative energy. We realize, I think, that this is a time of opportunity for those of us who make new plays, that each others' successes are good for the new play sector as a whole in this city, and that a healthy new play sector helps us all in turn. We need to continue to build on this energy... and I believe we will.

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