Culture of New York City


The culture of New York City is reflected in its size and ethnic diversity. Many American cultural movements first emerged in the city. The Harlem Renaissance established the renaissance in the United States. Large numbers of Italian Americans and Jews emigrated to New York throughout the twentieth century, significantly influencing the culture and image of New York City. American modern dance developed in New York in the early 20th century. The city was the top venue for jazz in the 1940s, expressionism in the 1950s and home to hip hop, punk rock, and the Beat Generation.

The City of New York is an important center for music, film, theater, dance and visual art. Artists have been drawn into the city by opportunity, as the city government funds the arts with a larger annual budget than the National Endowment for the Arts, and New York is a major center of the global art market which grew up along with national and international media centers.


New York City is home to the headquarters of the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League,and Major League Soccer. The New York metropolitan area hosts the most sports teams in these five professional leagues. Five of the ten most expensive stadiums ever built worldwide (MetLife Stadium, the new Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, Citi Field, and Barclay’s Center) are located in the New York metropolitan area.

Department of Cultural Affairs

The Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), a branch of the government of New York City, is the largest public funder of the arts in the United States. DCLA’s funding budget is larger than the National Endowment for the Arts, the Federal government’s national arts funding mechanism. DCLA provides funding and support services to about 1,400 art and cultural organizations in the five boroughs, including 375 museums, 96 orchestras, 24 performing arts centers, 7 botanical gardens, 5 zoos and 1 aquarium. Recipients span many disciplines, including the visual, literary and performing arts; public-oriented science and humanities institutions including zoos, botanical gardens and historic and preservation societies; and creative artists at all skill levels who live and work within the City’s five boroughs. DCLA also administers the Percent for Art program, which funds public art at building sites. In fiscal year 2007, DCLA’s expense budget, used for funding programming at non-profits, was $151.9 million. Its capital budget, used to support projects at 196 cultural organizations throughout the city ranging from roof replacement to new construction, is roughly $867 million for the period between 2007 and 2011.


Beginning with the rise of popular sheet music in the early 20th century, New York’s Broadway musical theater and Tin Pan Alley’s songcraft, New York became a major center for the American music industry.Since then the city has served as an important center for many different musical topics and genres.

New York’s status as a center for European classical music can be traced back to the early 19th century. The New York Philharmonic, formed in 1842, did much to help establish the city’s musical reputation. The first two major New York composers were William Fry and George Frederick Bristow, who in 1854 famously criticized the Philharmonic for choosing European composers over American ones. Bristow was committed to developing an American classical music tradition. His most important work was the Rip Van Winkle opera, which most influentially used an American folktale rather than European imitations.

Visual art
The 1913 Armory Show in New York City, an exhibition which brought European modernist artists’ work to the U.S., both shocked the public and influenced art making in the United States for the remainder of the twentieth century. The exhibition had a twofold effect of communicating to American artists that artmaking was about expression, not only aesthetics or realism, and at the same time showing that Europe had abandoned its conservative model of ranking artists according to a strict academic hierarchy. This encouraged American artists to find a personal voice, and a modernist movement, responding to American civilization, emerged in New York. Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946), photographer, Charles Demuth (1883–1935) and Marsden Hartley (1877–1943), both painters, helped establish an American viewpoint in the fine arts. Stieglitz promoted cubists and abstract painters at his 291 Gallery on 5th Avenue. The Museum of Modern Art, founded in 1929, became a showcase for American and international contemporary art. By the end of World War II, Paris had declined as the world’s art center while New York emerged as the center of contemporary fine art in both the United States and the world.

Stage performance
The early 20th century saw the emergence of modern dance in New York, a new, distinctively American art form. Perhaps the best known figure in modern dance, Martha Graham, was a pupil of pioneer Ruth St. Denis. Many of Graham’s most popular works were produced in collaboration with New York’s leading composers – Appalachian Spring with Aaron Copland, for example. Merce Cunningham, a former ballet student and performer with Martha Graham, presented his first New York solo concert with John Cage in 1944. Influenced by Cage and embracing modernist ideology using postmodern processes, Cunningham introduced chance procedures and pure movement to choreography and Cunningham technique to the cannon of 20th century dance techniques. Cunningham set the seeds for postmodern dance with his non-linear, non-climactic, non-psychological abstract work. In these works each element is in and of itself expressive, and the observer determines what it communicates. George Balanchine, one of the 20th century’s foremost choreographers and the first pioneer of contemporary ballet, formed a bridge between classical and modern ballet. Balanchine used flexed hands (and occasionally feet), turned-in legs, off-centered positions and non-classical costumes to distance himself from the classical and romantic ballet traditions.



Several important movements originated in New York City. One of the first American writers to gain critical acclaim in Europe, Washington Irving, was a New Yorker whose History of New York (1809) became a cultural touchstone for Victorian New York. Diedrich Knickerbocker, an old-fashioned Dutch New Yorker in Irvin’s satire of chatty and officious logistical history, made “Knickerbocker” a bye-word for quaint Dutch-descended New Yorkers, with their old-fashioned ways and their long-stemmed pipers and knee-breeches long after the fashion had turned to trousers. This served as the inspiration for the New York Knicks’s moniker, whose corporate name is the “New York Knickerbockers.”


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.

In popular culture

Because of its sheer size and cultural influence, New York 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 hellish and chaotic urban jungle depicted in such movies as Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, New York has served as the backdrop for virtually every conceivable viewpoint on big city life.

In the early years of film, New York City was characterized as urbane and sophisticated. By the city’s crisis period in the 1970s and early 1980s, however, films like Midnight Cowboy, The French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, Taxi Driver, Marathon Man, Cruising, Dressed to Kill, and Death Wish showed New York as full of chaos and violence. With the city’s renaissance in the 1980s and 1990s came new portrayals on television; Friends, Seinfeld, and Sex and the City showed life in the city to be glamorous and interesting. Nonetheless a disproportionate number of crime dramas, such as Law & Order, continue to make criminality in the city as their subject even as New York has become the safest large city in the United States in the last two decades.

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