Since our inception, City Lore has documented and advocated for cherished local establishments, public spaces and community landmarks. Over the past twelve years, in collaboration with the Municipal Art Society, this project has grown exponentially in size and scope. Current initiatives include our Census of Places that Matters, with more than 700 nominations, which are now being mapped through a new partnership with the GIS firm ESRI. In 2006, we published Hidden New York: A Guide to Places that Matter with Rutgers University Press. In 2007, we mounted an outdoor exhibit marking places that matter on the Lower East Side. This year, our “Community Tool Kit” went online. We are currently excited about two new, dynamic initiatives. History Happens Here will be a new innovative, web-based resource for inspiring, guiding and strengthening community engagement with public space. Place marking can establish a link between a community’s past, present and future. The History Happens Here web exhibit will offer neighborhoods, towns and cities across the United States a) strategies for enhancing community livability by implementing collaborative place marking projects on their own; and b) fee-for service consulting including the design and manufacture of place markers for neighborhoods and towns.
City Lore runs a rich and varied education program, combining in-depth arts-in-education programs with national outreach. In New York City, we have “adopted” PS 11 in Woodside, Queens, where we run artist residency programs in multiple grades. In addition, we bring folk and fine artists into more than 20 NYC schools, reaching over 5,000 students each year. Our programs highlight the immigrant traditions and histories of many cultures represented in the schools, and are designed to support National Standards in social studies, literacy, and the arts. We were recently featured by Project Zero at Harvard University in their publication, The Quality of Qualities: Excellence in Arts Education and How to Achieve It. We also conduct professional development for social studies teachers in partnership with the New York City Board of Education. This staff development project in American History is funded through a series of grants from the U.S. Department of Education (ranging from one to two million dollars). Our national programs include our CARTS (Cultural Arts Resources for Teachers and Students) Newsletter and a Teachers Center and library here in our offices at City Lore. Please see our new education video which captures the spirit of our work and our approach to arts education.
Urban Folklore and History
In 2010-2011, City Lore guest curated the exhibition Nueva York: 1613-1945 at El Museo del Barrio cosponsored with the New York Historical Society. It was among the most well attended shows in El Museo’s history. City Lore’s City of Memory site along with our related YouTube channel offers New Yorkers and visitors alike an opportunity to explore New York oral histories, neighborhoods and stories. This year, City of Memory is featured with a full-length essay in Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World by Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene and Laura Koloski published by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Established in l993, City Lore’s People’s Hall of Fame honors grassroots contributions to New York’s cultural life. Taking as its symbol a historic New York subway token, we present “tokens of our esteem” — actually plate-sized, bronze versions of the subway token–to individuals and organizations who are contributing creatively to the folk culture of New York City. In 2009, we honored, among others, DJ Rekha (Rekha Malhotra), for creating the NYC tradition of “basement bhangra,” a unique fusion of Punjabi melodies, Jamaican rhythms, and hip hop; and Gerald Menditto for walking the rails of the Cyclone Roller Coaster for 50 years, ensuring the safety of the world greatest roller coaster.
The People’s Poetry Project
City Lore was inspired to create the People’s Poetry Project because, while many groups are dedicated to traditional music and literary poetry, no other organization is systematically presenting the diverse oral poetry traditions of New York City, the U.S. and beyond. Poetry plays a key role in New York’s ethnic and cultural communities. Founded by City Lore and Poets House in 1999, the People’s Poetry Gathering transformed Lower Manhattan into a poetry village, attracting sizable audiences. Held in 2001, 2003, and 2006, the Gathering had a significant impact on poetry programming across the U.S. This year, we also hosted a major series of programs in collaboration with Poets House, Illuminated Verses: Poetries of the Islamic World, funded by a Bridging Cultures grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. We are currently implementing Poetic Voices of the Muslim World, a program of traveling exhibitions that will travel to six U.S. cities with large Muslim populations. A grant to take the program to six additional cities is pending at NEH. Our most recent initiative is Live from the POEMobile, an innovative, multi-year effort to give voice to New York City’s diverse ethnic poetry communities. The POEMobile is a brightly painted, poem-bedecked art truck designed to project poems on to walls and buildings in tandem with live readings. This initiative identifies “poetry ambassadors” from eight ethnic communities, and works with them to engage their poetry communities and local neighborhoods for a series of public readings and performances in tandem with building-size projections of their poetry. The two year project is funded through an award from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Cultural Innovation Fund City Lore and our partner, Bowery Arts + Science. Poet and project co-director Bob Holman described the Greek reading in Astoria, Queens this way: The vision of the show from vantage point behind the crowd was heartbreakingly beautiful, truly a Cinema Paradiso come to town. And the central moment of audience communing silently with written bilingual text of Sappho while traditional musicians played provided a moment of sheer delight. For this was Pure Poetry of the Moment, gentle, clear, demanding, individualized. We were simply living it. It was New and Old and the fact that it was Greek, Classical & Modern created a marvelous blend of orality, traditionality, and high tech.
City Lore develops a wide range of special projects, some generated by the staff and others by talented filmmakers, folklorists, artists, and historians who are developing innovative projects in keeping with our mission. In 2007, we received funding from the Coby foundation to transform our national traveling exhibition, The Weavings of War into a virtual exhibit, It explores a new trend in folk art still unfolding around the world: over the past 50 years, textile artists, mostly women, from Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and South Africa have broken with tradition and used pictorial imagery to communicate their personal and collective experiences with war. In addition, we produce documentary films, and serve as a conduit for filmmakers working on their own projects that relate to City Lore’s mission. Conduited films which have received national broadcast include Ric Burns’ Coney Island, his five part series, New York; and, most recently, the acclaimed City of Dreams about NYC women artists released theatrically and reviewed in The New York Times. Most recently, City Lore served as fiscal sponsor and documented the Centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.