From Sunny Jain’s last October performance Is wild wild at Lincoln Center.
Photo: Sachyn Mital
Last summer, after the first wave of COVID broke, a few small bangs and bursts of live music materialized here and there, like memories from another world. A jazz trio, a pair of cellists, a bunch of orchestral members playing in the back of a van, an old swing group that made passers-by dance – these were good omen for the artistic resurrection of New York. But they were just a tease. The country’s performing arts ecosystem closed its doors a year ago and will likely sit idle for another six months or so, until filing in a theater or concert hall no longer looks like a potentially activity. deadly. This time, however, when the warm weather finally arrives, the performers and presenters will be ready. Lincoln Center’s two opera houses, three theaters, and several concert halls are dark, but parts of the campus open to the sky come to life with ten new locations, ranging from proper stages and widely spaced chairs to movable corrals. Other performance spaces will sprout across New York, reshaping the city’s cultural geography.
As with vaccinations, taxes, and transportation, city and state have separate bureaucracies that compete with outdoor cultivation. The states NY PopsUp the program promises hundreds of concerts and theatrical events free, without tickets and unannounced scattered throughout the state and in the five boroughs, organized by the director and the choreographer Zack Winokur. There won’t be answers to the usual what-where-when questions for these events – you’ll only know one show when you meet her. The city will not produce any events itself, but it is deploying a Open culture framework which allows cultural institutions to take over specific streets for one-off performances and even to sell tickets.
With this encouragement and support, artistic groups in the city can mobilize. They have already started. As part of their efforts to revive the city neighborhood by neighborhood, two civic architecture organizations, the Van Alen Institute and the Urban Design Forum, paired designers with small art groups to create temporary outdoor venues and figure out how to attract audiences large enough to provide a community experience and small enough to be safe. (The standard appears to be around 100 people at a time.) Architectural firm Marvel designed a fast-deploying street theater made up of shipping containers that could be raised to let traffic pass underneath. However, the demands of open culture can be awkward: presenters can set up a stage or use amplified sound, but not both. They also have to leave a 15 foot emergency lane open and set up, rehearse, play and hit the plateau, all within a 12 hour window.
We really need these bites of joy. The recent history of outdoor restaurants, open streets, and vaccination sites suggests that we should expect early chaos. But from early April through fall, it’s time to iron out the rules, compensate for disappointments, and perfect New York’s new identity as the seat of a gigantic festival of small events. It is, after all, a city that runs on art. Any predictions about how businesses will react and whether New Yorkers will leave, come back, feel safe, shop, commute, or despair all depend on a collective sense of optimism. After a year of merging with our screens, we need the sound of a live band, the sight of intertwined dancers, an unamplified voice rivaling the din of a resurgent city. These are such essential ingredients that we barely realized how deadly their absence has been. In a city where putting on a show has generally been a risky, regulated, and extremely expensive business, there is something magical about the idea of guerrilla shows appearing here and there in every borough, rarely enough to make them special, quite rare enough to make them special. often to become a novelty of urban life. In this new version of cultural life, attending a concert is more like seeing a rare bird than organizing a party.
It’s not like we’re starting from scratch. The New York Philharmonic Orchestra has performed in the parks for nearly six decades. The organization Make music in New York sows more than 1,000 concerts throughout the city each summer solstice. Bryant Park has been hosting outdoor events for years, and while the offices remain empty for months to come, its lineup – more than 100 jazz and classical concerts in the park and in nearby public spaces – could s ‘turn out to be the summer equivalent of the Rockefeller. Christmas Tree Center: a reason to visit Midtown. But this moment prompts major performing arts organizations to expand their reach and capitalize on years of neighborhood concerts. Lincoln Center is forming symbiotic relationships with an assortment of cultural minnows such as the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, the Harlem Arts Alliance, the Korean Cultural Center, and the Weeksville Heritage Center. These types of exchanges, which are expected to survive the pandemic, are helping to spread the performing arts in a city that has suddenly, radically decentralized. NY PopsUP catches that spirit. “Instead of having masses of audiences at a handful of events, this festival is a mass of events, each for a ‘handful’ of safe and secure audiences,” the program’s website read. .
In the short term, a proliferation of outdoor events allows us to tap into the deep well of talent that has remained still and silent for a year. As theaters, dance companies and orchestras fight their way to reopening and struggle to stay solvent, the actors, dancers and musicians they depend on must be reminded how much we miss them and how much we want them. here. The pandemic has ravaged the artistic community with a cruelty unseen since the early days of the AIDS crisis, not only by killing its members, but also by sweeping careers, opportunities, income and the public, as a new report from the State Comptroller’s Office makes clear with miserable math: Almost overnight, two-thirds of the nearly 90,000 jobs in the arts sector were gone. Rebuilding this cultural infrastructure will take time. Many artists have dispersed and some have had to give up, change careers or let their skills decline. Those who have stood their ground, either because they had the resources to survive or because they had no choice, are eager to be seen and heard again. A web of pop-up events and impromptu sidewalk performances won’t rebuild a multi-billion dollar economy overnight, or even equip artists with spikes and rosin, but it’s an exciting start.
More than that, it will be a new status quo. The pandemic launched an era of duct tape town planning; cities have learned to improvise massive reorganizations in terms of traffic, restaurants, schools and shopping. Now they are doing the same with cultural life. Some of these transformations will fade away, others will endure because New Yorkers find they love them. And what’s not to love about the summer streets echoing with live chamber music and slaps of poetry?