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.”
Previously the home of Nice Guy Eddie’s, Boulton and Watt is one of the latest additions to the bar scene in the East Village. Several of the young people on the Manhattan Sideways team needed a place to host a casual after-hours business meeting, so they decided to kick things off by going back to 1st Street. They were pleased to find an eclectic array of specialty cocktails on the menu (including a new favorite, the Mexican Revolver) along with several wines and beers. They did not originally intend to dive into the food menu, but as they sat and held their meeting over drinks, a waiter came by and brought them a complimentary Scotch Egg! "Fried and delicious," was how they described it - the perfect addition to their first time experience at this fun and energetic establishment. I have no doubt that they will become frequent visitors in the future.
Transformed from a building lot to a beautiful space to showcase art, the First Street Garden Art Park adds culture to 1st street. Beginning in the spring of 2012, a variety of cultural events have taken place in this art park which, in 2011, was home to the first BMW/Guggenheim project. There are scheduled weekend programs showcasing music, dance and collaborative art for adults and children. Stop by anytime and see the newly unveiled artwork constantly changing.
A dainty shop located on Extra Place - that little side street off of 1st Street where the Ramones photographed an Album Cover - Nalata Nalata features high quality décor sourced mainly from Japan. In the same way that Manhattan Sideways shares the stories of businesses on the sidestreets of Manhattan, Nalata Nalata, as their website explains, “is a retail experience founded on promoting awareness of the people and stories behind our curated lifestyle products.”On my first visit to Nalata Nalata, I spoke with Angelique J.V. Chmielewski, who co-founded the business with her husband, Stevenson S.J. Aung. Originally from Alberta, Canada, Angelique came to New York to study fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology while Stevenson, her boyfriend at the time, fulfilled his masters in industrial design at the Pratt Institute.Nalata Nalata began as a website beautifully crafted to feature sections like Backstory, with write-ups on the brands behind the pieces, and Journal, detailing the journey and artistic endeavors through captioned photographs. In late 2013, Nalata Nalata opened in Extra Place as a pop-up store and, after falling in love with the spot, the owners decided to make it a permanent stay.Though functional in a traditional way, each product in the store contains intrinsic artistic and narrative values, many sourced from “multigenerational craftsmen who continue to refine their skill.” Angelique first directed me to the porcelain Ju-Bakos, Japanese stacking boxes, which are traditionally used for food on special occasions. Representative of multilayered happiness, each box was crafted with a different glaze.Later, Angelique held up a glass terrarium box designed by 1012 Terra, a company based in Chiba, Japan that is focused on celebrating plant life. In the box was a dried flower reminiscent of the rose in Beauty and the Beast. “In order to preserve a flower,” she explained, “pin it in the box and flip it upside-down. When it has completely dried out, it will be straight when turned upright.”Though devoted to sharing the works of others, Nalata Nalata is cemented by the artistry of Angelique and Stevenson. From the custom-made cabinets to the slab roof ceiling, the two redesigned the entire interior of the store in the months before its opening, with the help of some additional hands. The carefully selected products perfectly complement the spare, bright space.The store's website also reveals a great deal of artistry, with each piece beautifully photographed, set to a white background, and matched with a whimsical remark and a few lines about its origins, making online shopping more homey and intimate. The wool blankets exclaim, “Cool nights, brisk mornings, frigid afternoons. Whatever weather the day may bring I’m a tried-and-true, dyed-in-the-wool cozy friend… Always by one’s side to provide warmth and comfort.”Nalata Nalata is also working on their own line of products. One recent addition, the denim Ojami, bridges Japanese traditions and contemporary American design. Handmade in Kyoto, the Ojami are versatile pillows. Angelique and Stevenson enjoy using them as seats to “live low,” but they also function as throw pillows. In the future, the couple hopes to get into more denim and hardware products, while continuing to curate objects they appreciate artistically and sentimentally. For now, Angelique says, “We are just happy to be here.”