City Lore

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City Lore: the New York Center for Urban Culture was founded in 1986 and was the first organization in the United States devoted expressly to the "documentation, preservation, and presentation of urban folk culture."[1] Their mission is to produce programs and publications that convey the richness of New York City—and America's—living cultural heritage. In addition to regular programming that includes the Place Matters Awards and the People's Hall of Fame, the organization works with a wide range of partners to develop exhibitions, publications, and documentary films, and to advocate for the rights of street performers, ethnic clubs, and other grassroots cultural expressions in New York City. City Lore works in four cultural domains: urban folklore and history, preservation, arts in education, and grassroots poetry traditions. Described by Sonnet Takahisa of the September 11th Memorial Museum as "wise renegades," their programs include People's Poetry Project, Place Matters (in collaboration with the Municipal Arts Society) and City of Memory.

City Lore works collaboratively with folk and community artists, embracing different aesthetics for the creation of art. Their collaborators include the Gotham Center for New York City History, the New-York Historical Society, Bank Street College of Education, and smaller groups such as Los Pleneros de la 21. City Lore’s staff consists of professional folklorists (Steve Zeitlin, the founder and executive director, Elena Martínez and Amanda Dargan), historians (Marci Reaven), photographers (Martha Cooper), ethnomusicologists (Roberta Singer and Lois Wilcken), and arts and education specialists (Anika Selhorst).

Projects and programs[edit]

Urban folklore[edit]

The City Lore office on First Avenue on the Lower East Side houses archives containing over 100,000 images, hundreds of oral histories, and traditional music and poetry performance tapes.[2] The archives are part of the ongoing documentation project featured on City of Memory, a participatory online story map of New York City.

City Lore's People's Hall of Fame, established in 1993, honors grassroots contributions to New York's cultural life and presents winners with a plate-sized bronze version of the New York City subway token. Recipients have included the Pearls of Wisdom Storytellers, Peter Benfaremo ("The Lemon Ice King of Corona"), Jim Power ("New York's Mosaic Man"),[3] and Renee Flowers (original member of the Gowanus Wildcats Girls Drill Team).

City Lore created Know Your Rights!, a guide for street performers.

Place Matters[edit]

Since its inception, City Lore has served as an advocate for local landmarks through the Place Matters program in collaboration with Municipal Arts Society. There have been over 650 nominations from the public, including parks, historic sites, public art, beer gardens, industrial sites, and stores. In 2001, they successfully nominated Bohemian Hall, still a vibrant community center/beer garden started by Czech immigrants in Astoria, Queens, and the Casa Amadeo Music Store, the oldest, continuously occupied Latin music store in New York City, as census sites to the National Register of Historic Places. The organization has funding from the Dutch government for an outdoor exhibit in Lower Manhattan commemorating the Quadricentennial of Henry Hudson's voyage with signage marking key sites in New Amsterdam.

In 2006, City Lore published Hidden New York: A Guide to Places that Matter.

Arts in Education[edit]

City Lore develops and implements arts residencies and offers professional development to New York City public schools. In response to requests of public school teachers with increasing Bengali and Bangladeshi populations, the organization designed artist residencies in Queens, funded by the United States Department of Education to teach traditional Bengali scroll painting. City Lore has designed similar programs bringing Mexican, Ecuadorian, Egyptian, Ivorian, Cuban, Haitian, Peruvian, South African, and Brazilian artists into the schools.

People's Poetry Project[edit]

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001 attacks, City Lore found and collected anonymous poems and other writings that had been left at memorials, hospitals and gathering places throughout the city. A selection of these anonymous poems was published in the book, Words In Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam.[4] and appeared in Steve Zeitlin's essay, "Oh Did You See the Ashes Come Thickly Falling Down.[5]

Founded by City Lore and Poets House in 1999, The People's Poetry Gathering was created to present the diverse oral poetry traditions of New York City. In 2003, City Lore's People's Poetry Project launched an initiative to document and disseminate poetry from endangered languages.

Special projects[edit]

City Lore produces documentary films and collaborates with filmmakers whose work relates to the organization's mission. Sponsored films include Ric Burns' Coney Island and the five-part series New York: A Documentary Film; City of Dreams, a film about women artists in New York City; From Mambo to Hip Hop,[6] a documentary which traces the history of music in the South Bronx; and the forthcoming DeAf Jam, which highlights the poetry and storytelling of the deaf performed in American Sign Language.

City Lore developed the traveling exhibit Weavings of War, which featured the work of women textile artists from Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and South Africa.

Funds were raised by City Lore to support Peter Siegel's project to restore and issue tapes he made in the 1960s of folk music concerts by Mississippi John Hurt, The Carter Family, Jesse Fuller, Bill Monroe, and others. The recordings became the box set Friends of Old Time Music released by Smithsonian Folkways in 2006 [7]


  1. ^ American Folklore: An Encyclopedia. Brunvand, Jan Harold, ed. Garland Publishing, NY, 1996.
  2. ^ Mooney, Jake. "Their New York, Lost and Sometimes Found" New York Times, 8 June 2008.
  3. ^ Moynihan, Colin. "With Few Luxuries, an Artist Sticks to It" New York Times 12 December 2004
  4. ^ Aptowicz, Cristin O'Keefe. (2008). Words in Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam. New York City: Soft Skull Press, 288. ISBN 1-933368-82-9.
  5. ^ Zeitlin, Steve. "Oh Did You See the Ashes Come Thickly Falling Down." Spontaneous Shrines and the Public Memorialization of Death. Ed. Jack Santino.New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006
  6. ^ Pareles, John. "Mambo and Hip-Hop: Two Bronx Sounds, One Sense of Dignity". New York Times 14 September 2006.
  7. ^ Ratliff, Ben. "Rounding Up the Best of the Boxed; Friends of Old Time Music -- The Folk Arrival, 1961-1965." New York Times 24 November 2006.

External links[edit]