In the mid-twentieth century, Tibet — which is devoted to Buddhist practices and is led by the Dalai Lama — was invaded by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, sparking a decades-long dispute over Tibetan sovereignty. China’s Communist Party has since destroyed vital elements of Tibetan culture, including over 6, 000 monasteries. With so many cultural centers demolished by the Chinese forces, the rich, centuries-old Tibetan way of life risks extinction. For this reason, the fourteenth Dalai Lama asked to establish Tibet House U. S. to preserve the heritage of his people. Thus, the intriguing institution was founded by prominent American Buddhists: composer Philip Glass, author Robert Thurman, and actor Richard Gere. Since the 1990s, Executive Director Ganden Thurman has dedicated himself to Tibet House U. S. ’ mission of protecting and presenting Tibetan culture to society at large. Having spent time in India as a child while his father — a professor of Buddhist studies — did research, Thurman came to appreciate the “poise, humility, and perspective” of the Tibetan lamas and academics who frequented his family’s home. Though he considers himself more secular than religious, he clarified that Tibet House is neither a political nor religious organization. However, there are often times when they find themselves engaged in conversation on such topics. Through art exhibitions, lectures on subjects including medicine and mind sciences, and classes such as “Developing Compassion” that fuse Buddhist practices with Western psychology, Tibet House allows visitors to draw their own conclusions. With its library and permanent installation of Tibetan artifacts — open regularly to the public — this precious museum safe-guards the culture of the region within its walls. Since members of Tibet House are considered too political to attain travel visas by the Chinese authorities, the House does not have the ability to source artworks on its own. Instead, generous collectors donate the majority of the pieces on display. According to Thurman, such artists and art aficionados are the House's greatest supporters, as they tend to feel a personal connection to the fight for freedom of expression. This collaboration was evidenced by the prints we observed of the current Dalai Lama, donated by Richard Avedon, hanging above a printer, and musician Philip Glass' name listed on the roster of the Executive Officers. Thurman revealed to us that during the course of the Tibet-China conflict, over 100 Tibet nationals have resorted to self-immolation in order to catch the world’s attention and direct it towards their struggle. They are desperate to be seen - and through its efforts Tibet House US is providing them the right to be present in the narrative of world heritage.
Founded in 1914 by Andrew Carnegie, this organization plays an enormous role not just in New York, but internationally. The goal of the council is to provide guidance on the moral issues of the world. Through programs, broadcasts, and written works, the group aims to be a hub for information about ethics and justice. Carnegie Council hopes that its efforts will lead the world to a place of cooperation and peace.
Intrigued by the architectural mastery of the gradually tapering building covered in glass and aluminum, I wandered into what turned out to be the Austrian Cultural Forum. The Forum serves as the cultural embassy of Austria in the United States and hosts a wide variety of free events each year, including art exhibitions, film screenings and concerts. The art gallery is spread out between five narrow floors connected by austere metal stairs. The Forum provides a quiet respite from the busy Midtown streets and invites the visitor to linger over the collection of photographs and videos.
The Caribbean Cultural Center Africa Diaspora Institute, which moved to its latest location on 125th Street in October of 2016, celebrated its new home with the three-part exhibition “Home, Memory, and the Future, ” which focused entirely on Harlem. When the Manhattan Sideways team visited in the summer of 2017, the Center was in the midst of the second part of their exhibition: “Harlem and Home in the Global Context. ” We were eager to learn more about the project and were fortunate enough to chat with Janet, one of the staffmembers, as we browsed through the art on display. Janet began our conversation by clarifying that “the Center is not a museum. We don’t collect here. ” Instead, there is an ever-changing array of different exhibitions that usually revolve around a theme. Those themes are always under the overarching topic of the African Diaspora, as one of the Center’s core missions is to raise awareness of how the forced dispersal of Africans and their customs affected other cultures. Namely, it demonstrates how different cultures and their respective arts are interrelated due to the common thread of African influence. This goal has been an essential one for the Center ever since its beginnings in 1976, when its founder, Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, realized that there was a general ignorance in regards to Caribbean, Latin American, and African cultures. Thus, through education and outreach programs, she sought to enlighten others. Equally as significant, she modeled herself and her institution on the concept of being an “artivist, ” which involves finding the intersection of social justice and art and understanding how positive social change can be effected through creative mediums. The Center tries to reach students at a young age with its Teaching Living Cultures initiative, tailored for those in Pre-K through 12th grade, which provides exposure to the various art forms associated with the African Diaspora. It also continues to modernize its methods of connecting with and gaining the interest of the public through a series of apps that better appeal to their young audiences. The CCCADI also maintains that it is never too late to educate oneself, which is why it offers programs for adults via Community Arts University Without Walls, which offers international exchanges that are open to everyone. By creating a platform for people to go abroad and immerse themselves in foreign customs and art forms, the Center hopes to promote “conscious cultural tourism. ” At the time of our visit, Janet told us that the staffmembers were busy preparing for their trip to Puerto Rico, where they planned to visit local artists’ studios and gain a direct understanding of the country’s contemporary art scene. She reiterated that although these exchange programs are open to anyone, they are often used by members of the Latinx community to reconnect with their cultures. Another important aspect of the organization is the Sacred Traditions project. Janet revealed that the Center is “unofficially known for decolonizing African secret traditions, ” meaning that it seeks to dispel negative stigma surrounding certain belief systems. She said that many people hold misconceptions about so-called “fringe” beliefs like santería, voodoo, or gagá, which are often practiced throughout the Caribbean. The CCCADI helps to clear up misconceptions and demystify these sacred traditions in various ways, be it through trips to African nations, symposiums on African and indigenous beliefs, or exhibitions and concerts. The Center also demonstrates how elements of these traditions live on today, highlighting the relevance of learning about past practices and honoring the collective cultural heritage created by the African Diaspora.
Until 1971, the French Institute and the Alliance Francaise de New York were two separate entities - one for promoting French art, while the other was teaching the French language. The merger into one not-for-profit organization has been a great achievement for French culture in the city. Inside its beautiful Beaux Arts building, the French Institute Alliance Francaise teaches over 6000 students and offers events and film screenings. In addition, in the gallery space on the main floor, there are tables and comfortable seating for anyone who would like a quiet place to read or work for a short while. And if one is strolling by on a Saturday, as I was one day, they will find a couple serving savory and sweet flaky French pastries in the lobby.
After being approved by the board, and paying a membership fee, guests are invited to attend the varied events held in this Beaux-Arts landmark building that was erected in 1899. Originally designed to be a civic club for those in the surrounding community, in 1946, the building was sold to the Estonian Educational Society by the wife of the original owner, Frederick Goddard,. Estonians immediately began seeking refuge here, and it has remained theirs ever since. Today, they have folk dancing, concerts, lectures, exhibitions, plays and other entertaining activities. There is a private dining room and bar area, and members are invited to host their own private events anytime in this stunning house.
Though the Tea Ceremony Society would be interesting enough on its own, the Urasenke Chanoyu Center building also has a fascinating history: the 130-year-old landmark was Mark Rothko's studio, and where he ultimately died. In 1964, the interior was completely redesigned to form four tea rooms surrounding a central tea garden. Anyone interested in chanoyu, the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, can join the society for a fee. In-depth chanoyu classes are offered to members, and monthly tea ceremony demonstrations are open to the public.
William S. Paley, the creator of CBS, inaugurated the Paley Center for Media in 1975. An iconic figure in the radio and television industries, Paley sought to create a space where visitors could access a massive archive of past and present television and radio shows. Formerly known as The Museum of Broadcasting and later, The Museum of Television and Radio, the Paley Center houses a collection of almost 150, 000 programs, encompassing over 100 years of television and radio history. The Center is an historical record unlike any other and offers a unique and engaging way of understanding our past and present. The Paley Center is a wonderful place to spend a quiet afternoon, unearthing a treasure trove of veritable hidden gems, or - in my daughter's case, some twenty years ago - it was the perfect venue for a birthday party. My husband and I had so much fun introducing about a dozen ten year olds to some of our favorite shows from the 1960s and early 70s
Located in a quiet section of East 52nd Street, I found the Norwegian Seamen's Church, which was originally a meeting place for Norwegian sailors. The Church is now a community space for any Norwegian living in, or visiting, the city. On the day that I looked in, I found musicians, students, and businesspeople gathered in this quiet sanctuary to chatter with their fellow citizens and indulge in Norwegian food and entertainment. The Church also houses the Trygve Lie Gallery.
Though not exactly hidden, since the grand exterior bedecked with flags makes it hard to miss, I still consider the Bohemian National Hall a hidden gem due to the magnificent spaces and programs cached behind its walls, unknown to local passersby. For a short time, my husband and I had an apartment a few doors down from this imposing building, and had the opportunity to step inside a couple times. However, it was Cynthia Sutherland - Public Relations head for the Czech Center at the Bohemian National Hall - who provided Manhattan Sideways with an in-depth look at each of the five floors. There are three main organizations residing in the building: The Czech Center, the Consulate General, and the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association. All these organizations work together to promote Czech culture. For anyone who associates "Bohemian" with Queen, Rent, or flowing hippie skirts (which, Cynthia informed me, is true for many people), Bohemia is a region in the Czech Republic that is famous for artistic expression, freedom of speech, and a strong sense of tradition. We began our tour in the theater on the first floor, where a film club meets on Tuesdays to watch a variety of movies. Cynthia explained that the Czech Center is open to different cultures, and has shown many works by American directors, with the only requirement being that the film must somehow link back to the Czech Republic. She also mentioned that most of the programs at the Bohemian National Hall are completely free, which was especially impressive considering the size and scope of the events. Cynthia then took us upstairs to see the gallery, which is accessed via a breathtaking spiral staircase. Stepping inside, we observed people setting up for their next exhibit, called "Czech Dream, " featuring art that explores the ideas of resignation, expectation, and uncertainty in Czech consciousness. Before moving to the next floor, Cynthia pointed out the meaningful quotes written on the wall in both Czech and English. "This building is a living, breathing thing with its own voice, " she explained. Venturing into the library, we were warmly greeted by Barbara Karpetova, the director of the Czech Center, who encouraged us to wander in the library, which is open to the public and often holds forums and readings. Cynthia then led us to the floor run by the BBLA, formed in 1892 so that Czech visitors to New York would have a place to go and meet with their fellow countrymen. Cynthia showed us a large plaque dedicated to Antonin Dvorak, explaining that the famous composer held concerts in the Bohemian National Hall and that the BBLA owns artifacts from his life, such as hand-written sheet music. We also learned that weddings, conventions, and concerts are still held in the spacious Study Center and recital room on this floor. Upstairs, our jaws dropped as Cynthia led us into a grand ballroom. The space can hold up to 300 people, not counting the balconies above. The magnificent stage that occupied one wall is a replica of a theater in Prague, and there is a full bar and kitchen off of the ballroom. Over the years, countless musicians, dancers, and theater troupes have performed on the stage. As we stood there, Cynthia enthusiastically mentioned that the Center was looking forward to a new concert series in 2016, called "Prague New York Effects, " where Czech and American artists will be working on a collaborative piece. "We like to call it an incubator, " Cynthia said. The artists will then visit the Czech Republic to perform their work in Prague. As we exited the ballroom, we noticed pictures of the renovation that took place in 2008. Cynthia explained that the goal of the renovation was to make the building look "Bold and bright and modern. " Everything we saw could certainly be described by those adjectives, including the state-of-the-art dressing rooms that we found on the balcony level. On the other side of the floor, we saw the meeting room in which the Czech president had recently sat. The cherry on the sundae, however, was the rooftop. With an outdoor bar and an area that can be covered against the elements, the roof hosts a variety of events throughout the summer. Cynthia told us that they had shown eight rooftop movies during 2015, subtitled in English, with complimentary champagne and strawberries. "This is a cultural haven, " Cynthia remarked as we were descending - and after exploring the beautiful hall from head to toe, we could not agree more. Cynthia, who commutes in every day from upstate New York, simply announced, "I love my job. When I'm here... it's amazing. " With countless events each month (where complimentary Czech beer is frequently served), the Bohemian National Hall should be on any New Yorker's radar. It is a great place to immerse oneself in fine quality Czech culture. Cynthia's closing line of the afternoon said it all, "To the Czech people, art is life. "
As described by the organization’s tagline and by its founder, Steve Zeitlin, City Lore focuses on “the art of everyday life. ” Through the decades, it has devoted itself to “preserving New York City’s — and America’s — living cultural heritage” by starting or funding a range of educational, artistic, and folk projects. Though City Lore has had a particularly strong presence in the East Village, where it is headquartered, it arranges events throughout New York to promote all that this amazing city has to offer. City Lore emerged from Steve’s own core belief that “the true value in life is the artistry that people share, the individualistic family cultures that define who we are. ” The fascination with how one shapes their reality or “essentially build a self” led him to study folklore and eventually get his PhD in the subject. Steve gravitated toward the Smithsonian in the 1970s and wound up working for the institute’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, where he launched his first projects on compiling, preserving, and celebrating personal histories. Upon moving to New York in 1981, Steve, his wife, Amanda Dargan, and other folklore scholars were seeking ways to “tap into the heart and soul of the city. ” They discovered that many older residents still had vivid memories of the games they played as children during the Great Depression, such as using rubber tires, fire hydrants, and anything else they could scavenge to entertain themselves. The team became engrossed with the concept of “using the city itself as a game board, ” which evolved into a photography series of urban graffiti — described by Steve as “a form of kids’ play that grew out of tagging the schoolyard walls. ” These early projects led to the official start of City Lore as New York’s self-professed “museum without walls. ”Today, City Lore works to educate the public on diverse cultures and art, share grassroots poetry and performances with local communities, and keep a record of the places that matter most to New Yorkers. It also sponsors others who are passionate about highlighting the “great aspects of our culture that go overlooked. ” Steve recognizes that maintaining this living archive of a city as vast and changeable as New York may be a utopian endeavor, but he continues the tireless task of making sure that “folk art that is being ignored doesn’t slip through the cracks. ”