Thursday, March 22, 2012

New York - The Cultural Capital of America?

New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America. 
Is it still? If not, where?

This is a very vague question as it really doesn't define what kind of culture we're talking about so to help, I'm going to put my hands around some different topics as they pertain to what I consider to be culture as well as what effects the growth of fine arts.

Before I begin, I think it might be a good idea to define the word culture so here is what Wikipedia has to say about it.

Culture (Latin: cultura, lit. "cultivation")[1] is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. However, the word "culture" is most commonly used in three basic senses:
  1. Excellence of taste in fine arts and humanities, also known as high culture
  2. An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning 
  3. The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization, or group

Now I've got a real bee in my bonnet when it comes to favoring New York over the rest of the world. You can chalk it up to sheer Texas pride but I wear it on my sleeve like a Southern Baptist going to church. A few years back, the NASHER would open in Dallas and Ray Nasher went all the way to New York to get the logo and corporate branding developed as in his mind, the best always comes from New York. The account would come up for review some time after that and I was invited to the table where I sat with Mr. Nasher and pitched our services. And as much as it pained me at the time, they decided to go with another smaller firm. I was happy, however, to discover the smaller firm he selected was in Dallas which gave me some confort in knowing we've got folks down here that are just as creative or more so than what you might find in the Big Apple.

So why New York? What's so special about this place that it defines a belief of higher culture and continues to lead the world within this space? Well that's an easy question and it's better explained through an example.

When I graduated from college over twenty years ago, a cultural movement began in Dallas to restore Deep Ellum and create an arts district of sorts housing fine dining and music venues. In fact, my first real design job out of college was to design the logo for Trees which was an incredible music venue. Over time, Deep Ellum would lose it's luster and slowly die away leaving only a few places that might still feature music but the majority of the area is fairly well boarded up and they tell me it may be in some sort of transitional state to become more residential.

Meanwhile in Austin, 6th street thrives full throttle with great food and incredible music. A hub for real artistic expression with packed houses and busy bar keeps that can barely keep up the pace of set ups and beer taps while guitar slingers play on into the night.

So what's the difference?

Unlike Dallas, Austin has a set market that feeds the arts scene regularly, that being the University of Texas. You could consider this to be the meat and potatoes of cash flow while tourists provide the icing on the cake as UT has the fifth-largest single-campus enrollment in the nation and had the largest enrollment in the country from 1997 to 2003 with over 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students combined. That's a lot of kids with credit cards.

Dallas, on the other hand, is what I would define as a family city. Made up primarily of young people who are either single professionals or married with small children working 9 hour days. Southern Methodist University averages around 12,000 students which is hard to pull from consistently due to such a small number. A night out on the town is a hard sell when you're working so much or tending to the needs of your children.

So where does that leave us?

With the money flowing so well in support of the arts within Austin, artists flock to an environment where they can flourish and grow. And New York is really no exception to this as they have simply done a better job of pushing, promoting, nurturing and appreciating the arts over the years. That is not to say that they have better arts as they don't. I would put Jaap van Zweden, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra or the Nasher Sculpture Center up against any single one arts organization in the world and the Dallas Arts District, although still in development, will surely surpass expectations. Texas is full of top tier talent that continues to raise the bar of fine arts and culture and I will continue to beat the drum of my southern roots until they lay me in the ground. Boots and all.

In conclusion, does this rant or ramble actually answer the question above? Is New York still the culture capital of the world? If the question is based upon development, then I would say yes but only because of the money, the influence and passion that New York has always had towards building upon the arts and culture.

Do they have better artists or better culture? My answer is no they do not. Most creative people that live in New York are transplants that have moved there to further their career. It's the old, "If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere" that drives folks to the
North in search of growth and glorious careers.

But all that glory will never surpass our women, our music, our art, our barbecue and our rebellious nature to make a square peg fit through a round hole. That said, I'll keep the Texas dirt under my feet. You can send the Big Apple down here to me as I've got a real good cobbler recipe.


  1. This is a wonderful read, Edwin. You make a great argument for all of us who love Texas over New York!

  2. came across your post as part of reading posts in the spring for music challenge. (my friend, dorothy santos, also is part of the challenge.) i enjoyed pour rant/rave post - and have included you as part of the few that i voted for. hoping you make it to round 2!

  3. Well I appreciate that and you're very kind to vote. I doubt I'll make round 2 but it was fun just to give my perspective. New York is a great visit.

  4. Great read. Loved the last paragraph in particular :)

  5. Edwin, Edwin, Edwin.

    Let me preface by saying your sister is dear to me - her love for Texas notwithstanding.

    I am a child of the East. A product of the culture whose value you skim ever so briefly over to rest on the soil of Texas. And while I have no need to argue in depth with the soul of what you say here, you skip a beat. You miss the history, the texture and yes, the richness that is New York.

    I saw my first opera at 7, walked through the MMA in grade school, lunched at Lutece in my adolescence. I am afraid that little in Texas comes close in aged, cultured presence. Walk into the public library and I dare you not to be moved. The amazing architecture both inside and out - Grand Central, the Chrysler building,Central Park and even the small amazing Morgan Library, just snippets of the visual wealth that surrounds. The unbelievable pulse that drives that city and ones ability to fall in and ride the stream with so many others - its the one place on earth where it seems everyone fits in. The flavor, the feel, the art, the music, the ballet, the opera and yes, the opportunity - all are much bigger than the proudly beating heart of Texas. Which, with all due respect, is a nice place to visit.