Minton’s Playhouse may not be
one of the biggest names in musical institutions, but for many musicians
it was a place of escape and freedom. Located on 118th Street in the
former dinning room of Hotel Cecil, the
playhouse was a place artists went to get away from the mainstream
swing music during the late 1930s. The tenor saxophonist Henry Minton
opened it in 1938 and it was taken over by Teddy Hill in 1940. Hill
concentrated on regular Monday-night jam sessions where visiting musicians
played. Dizzy Gillespie, Hot Lips Page, Roy Elridge, Charlie Christian,
and Don Byas were just a few of the guest performers that Minton’s
Playhouse saw. It was here that bebop was slowly being created. Resident
musicians, Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clarke, Joe Guy, and Rudy Williams
were regulars at the “bop sessions,” in the playhouse.
Other musicians working not far off at the Apollo Theatre came to
Minton’s late at night to experiment with new sounds and music.
These sessions lasted until about four in the morning. Minton’s
was all about experimentation and innovation among the artists. Even
the audience at the playhouse was mostly made up of musicians. These
bop musicians wanted to be thought of as artists and not as just performers.
In addition, there were many talented soloists from unpopular bands
that took the opportunity to perform at Minton’s. Unfortunately,
by the 1960s all that remained were entertainers who merely copied
the acts that were highly experimental in the forties. Despite the
popularity of this small getaway in Harlem, it eventually lost its
edge and has been closed since the 1980s.
by George Hirsch
596 Lenox Avenue (between 140th and 141st Streets)
2221 7th Avenue at corner of 131st
of Harlem: 466 West 152nd Street
Oberia D. Dempsey
Multi-Service Center: 127 West 127th Street
the first two decades of the twentieth century there was a large influx
of African Americans moving from the southern states to New York.
This migration was due to the hostile environment that existed for
blacks in the south, as well as the many job opportunities for blacks
in the north in industry resulting from World War I. Looking for a
place to stay, these southern blacks found it in Harlem. “Harlem
grew from a community of 50,000 blacks in 1914 to 80,000 by 1920 to
200,000 by 1930”. These southern blacks brought and created
dances such as the Black Bottom, the Charleston, the Shimmy, the Lindy
Hop, and many more in clubs and theatres throughout Harlem. Some of
the more famous clubs and theatres were the Apollo Theatre, Connie’s
Inn, Small’s Paradise, Leroy’s, the Cotton Club, and the
Savoy Ballroom. One of the biggest crazes to hit Harlem, as well as
the rest of the world, during the Harlem renaissance was the Lindy
Hop. The Savoy Ballroom played a large role in the creation and perfection
of this dance.
The Savoy was opened on March 12, 1926 and swiftly became the most
popular dance venue in Harlem. Many of the jazz dance crazes of the
1920s and 1930s originated there. In the late 1920's in Harlem, New
York, the Lindy Hop was breaking out at dance clubs everywhere, but
it wasn't until the opening of the Savoy Ballroom that the Lindy Hop
got its name and a home. At the Savoy, the Lindy Hop got hotter and
hotter, and better and better, as the popular Saturday night competitions
pushed good dancers to greatness. New steps were born every day.
The Savoy Ballroom, as well as the other famous clubs during the Harlem
renaissance, really changed the community of Harlem. One change that
took place because of these clubs was that Harlem became a cultural
and entertainment center, where rich white people would come and watch
the black dancers. Langston Hughes, writes, “The Lindy-Hoppers
at the Savoy even began to practice acrobatic routines, and to do
absurd things for the entertainment of the whites, that probably never
would have entered their heads to attempt merely for their own effortless
By introducing innovative dance styles to audiences that included
Whites, the Savoy Ballroom help to spread Black culture to White America.
The Lindy Hop became a dance trend in both Black and White adolescent
culture throughout the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Black
culture became incorporated into the national culture. In addition,
because it created a sophisticated and elegant environment, the Savoy
Ballroom added to the status and lore of Harlem and to the status
of blacks in the 1920’s.
Most of these clubs and ballrooms shutdown after the 60’s and
turned into grocery stores, nail and hair
salons, liquor stores, and apartment buildings. The Savoy ballroom
took up the entire block of Lenox between 140th and 141st street.
In it's heyday it was a cultural mecaa. Another
club, located at 2221 seventh avenue on the corner of 131, called
Connie’s Inn, where Louis Armstrong used to play, looks a lot
different today then it did in the 1920’s and 30’s.
While presently, there
are much fewer clubs and ballrooms to dance in,
there are a lot more established schools and companies in Harlem,
that teach and perform all types of dance. One of the more famous
company/schools in the Harlem area is the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
They are located at 466 west 152nd Street. Dance Theatre of Harlem
was founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook. After the
assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Arthur Mitchell made
this his personal commitment to the people of Harlem. The school was
created so that the youth of Harlem could express themselves in a
safe environment and to help them to “develop into contributing
members to the community at large” Visit www.dancetheatreofharlem.com
for more information. Another place where children
can grow as individuals and learn to express themselves is the Oberia
D. Dempsey Multi-Service Center. This center is Located at 127 West
127th street. In addition to dance classes in mainly West-African,
they offer many other recreational services to the community of Harlem.
The Studio Museum in Harlem: 144 West 125th
When it comes to assessing
the state of fine art in Harlem, one is bound to make an instant reference
to the Harlem Renaissance. However, this literary, artistic and cultural
movement is a phenomenon of the past, specifically - the Roaring 20s.
Still, its impact on the community and the African American culture
was so significant that people cannot help but praise its contributors
for uprooting African American heritage and advancing the arts.
However, the Golden Age of Harlem has long since passed and what remains
now is a community that is
slightly behind in the visual arts. Harlem, where literature of Zora
Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison and others, prospers, but other talents
remain unseen. It is true there are two prominent museums –
Museo el Barrio, which is a part of East Harlem, and The Studio Museum
of Harlem, on 125th Street, off of Amsterdam Ave. The Studio Museum,
located in the populous area of Harlem, has the potential to represent
the entire artistic genius roaming through the streets of the community,
but such cannot be done behind closed doors. A closed door is precisely
the barrier that I encountered during my trip to Harlem. Closed for
renovation, even indefinitely? Shut out, it left me to wander the
streets in search of artistic spirit.
A list of art galleries, provided by www.hometoharlem.com
(an informational website), could have been my guide, except that
none of the galleries listed seemed to exist. I rushed from one boarded
up door to the next, from one lost street address to another, just
to find there was no gallery that existed, or was open. This concerned
me. Was it the financial inadequacy that kept Harlem art from its
people? It seemed absurd that what was once Florence of the Harlem
Renaissance has lost its artistic heritage, or was forced to resign
into a dubious state.
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Katrina Yee and Julie Solovyeva
Where galleries remain closed, I found
that people of Harlem found another way of expression – that
is through street art, or Graffiti. Graffiti, to some, is considered
vandalism of public property, a rebellious action to deface communal
spaces. However, I would strongly disagree, as would the residents
of the Harlem community, where graffiti is as much a part of its environment
as the extensive religious organizations. Residents find that graffiti
provides them with a voice to speak out about community concerns.
Their canvasses are used as visual petitions to make the government
see what the community goes through. Perhaps, it is a form of anarchism,
but it is also an effective way to make your voice heard and beautify
the destitute community.
Location: 125th Street (between
Malcolm X Blvd and Amsterdam Ave.)
The first graffiti artwork that I came
across is also the most recently created. This mural was located conveniently
on the side of a retail store, H&M, which caters to the younger
generation. It is impressively
large, painted elaborately in a diverse color palette. The theme of
this mural seems to be women’s health and contribution of women
to the community. It pays respects, honors, praises and draws attention
to the women population of Harlem. The main three figures prominently
divide the canvas into three parts. One, on the left, appears to be
an athlete. She is suspended into slumber, or silent prayer, against
a serene background of jungles and night sky. The second woman, in
the middle of the mural, is praying to the image of an athlete –
another female. She is dressed in ethnic clothes of vibrant and soothing
green tones. The third female is depicted with her bare back to the
viewer. She covers her chest with her hands. This may be a reference
to the victims of breast cancer, as one of the inscription on the
bottom right corner of the mural reveal a dedication to cancer patients
of Harlem. A pink ribbon ties the three women together and their thoughtful,
strong facials expressions evoke a sense of unity, pride and dignity.
The muralist also chose to such include symbolic words as ‘balance,’
‘fear,’ ‘resilient spirit,’ ‘balance,’
and ‘God’ throughout the image. Overall, it represents
a Harlem that overcomes struggles as a unified community unit where
women play a prominent role.
Corner of 133rd Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard
Another mural that decorates the dismal
walls of the less fortunate parts of Harlem is the “Community
Struggles” artwork. Once again, it is figural and highly active
both in the way it depicts the residents of Harlem
as well as the ideas behind the surface. The figures are large, with
strong features and imposing body language. They carry signs that
call for ‘Better Housing,’ ‘Education,’ ‘Unity,’
and ‘Community.’ They represent the working class population
of Harlem, some – Hispanic, some – African American. Clad
in colorful clothing, they embody the heterogeneously rich population.
Men, women and children march through the streets of their neighborhood
in an attempt to raise awareness and support for the issues of the
P.S. 129 at 425 West 130th Street
It seems as though the Harlem Community
has adopted street art as a way to beautify itself. The background
of P.S. 129 is a remarkable example of community
improvement through encouraging of children to express themselves
through art rather than violence, which haunted Harlem in the past.
These murals defy the public notion of what a school should be as
they are made by kids and for kids. P.S. has managed to allow children
to create a beautiful world within the bounds of this playground and,
perhaps, carry these notions of how a community should look outside
The murals of these walls are eclectic and reflect different aspects
of children’s lives from their heritage to nationalism. When
walk into the playground, there is a cute painting of the statue of
liberty character and a huge American flag, with smaller flags of
other nations below it. This signifies how proud the students are
that they live in America, but that they are also proud of the countries
that they come or descend from. As you
continue to walk through the playground to the basketball courts,
there are several other paintings of different animals, such as fishes,
cats, and dogs, and creative little houses with windows as the center.
The paintings are all very colorful and simplistic; though beautiful
in this simplicity. There are also several phrases on the walls that
promote unity and friendship, such as “Can you make friends?
Can you play with me?”
The Studio Museum
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by Jacob Winger
West 125th Street and Amsterdam Avenue
As a result of the rapidly changing
face of Harlem and the flow of capital that has continued to rise
even in the months following September 11th, the rise in ourism has
begun to once again nurture the vibrant arts of the rich cultural
eighborhood. As Manhattan suffered in its tourism trade following
the World Trade Center tacks flocks of people began to reinvigorate
the long standing Studio Museum in Harlem,
which has continued to experience rising attendances despite the allings
in most other Manhattan museums. Much of the space of this museum
is devoted to the artwork of people from throughout the African Diaspora
as well as native African art. The Museum is located at 144 W. 125th
Street where large public spaces are used for many movies, displays
and exhibitions of prominent and rising artists. The current display
is by the activist and artist Fred Wilson and features objects and
installations constructed between 1985 and 2000. The aim of the exhibit
is to explore the role in the museum itself in the perpetuation of
One of the major ways in which the face of Harlem
has been changed by the rising interest in art coupled with the rising
wealth of residents has been the large number independent galleries
that have begun to set up shop. One of these art spaces to recently
open in Harlem is the P.C.O.G. Gallery, which was founded in 1991
by Paula Coleman and Ousmane Gueye. As established professionals in
the fields of business and sculpture, respectively, the aim of the
P.C.O.G. Gallery is to blend the traditions of African and African-American
artists and to provide exhibition space to as many rising talents
as possible. The works of world-renowned sculptor Gueye remain on
permanent display while accompanied by the works of artists in the
fields of painting, photography, and mixed media. The current featured
artist is native New Yorker Taijay, whose intricate ink drawings are
described as a blend of “Afro-Asian-Euro-Indo-Latin aesthetics”.
P.C.O.G. also remains active in the Harlem community by reaching out
to youths in order to teach them artistic creativity and appreciation
at an early age through the weekly art classes of the Emerging Young
Artists (EYA) program.
Through established artistic devotion of institutes
such as these other independent galleries have begun to view Harlem
as an environment vibrant with art and history. Galleries such as
Exhibit “A” and Project Space offer trendy new areas to
display rising talents. Much of the arts still aims, however, at preserving
the heritage of Harlem and African people. This support can be clearly
seen in the rapid growth of the Jazz Museum, which celebrates the
musical explosion of the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. Exhibits feature
photographs, antiques and extensive history.
The Jazz Museum is located at 104 E
126th Street, and currently features the exhibit “Harlem Speaks”,
a tribute to the voices that keep jazz alive in Harlem.
Artists In Harlem
by Aubrie Dillon
(1899-1979) was from Topeka, Kansas and went to the University of
Nebraska for his bachelor’s degree of fine arts and Columbia
University for his master’s degree in fine arts. Moving to
New York City in 1925, Douglas met artist Winold Reiss. Reiss became
his teacher and a source of influence as he encouraged Douglas to
pursue African-American and Black heritage as subject matter. Douglas
researched African art and combined it with his training of classical
art to become one of the first American painters considered and Africanist.
He also painted African-Americans with dignity and pride and became
one of the leading artists of the Harlem Renaissance, illustrating
the works of authors Du Bois, Hughes and Cullen. Later in his career,
Douglas painted panels and murals, which included stylize, geometric
figures similar to those of African sculpture. In 1939, Douglas joined
the faculty of Fisk University, for which he created several murals.
He retired in 1966.
Johnson (1901-1970) was from Florence, South Carolina and
went to the National Academy of Design in 1921. At the academy, Charles
Harthorn became his mentor and arranged for him to spend two
summers at the Cape Cod School of Art. Graduating with eight awards
in 1926, Hawthorne went to Paris to explore new artistic freedom.
Borrowing from the styles of Cezanne and Chaim Soutine, Johnson used
“topsy-turvy” forms of Soutine to paint landscapes. Six
of his paintings were featured in the Harmon Foundation exhibition
in 1930 and he won the gold medal. Returning to the south, Johnson
painted the Jacobia Hotel on the streets of Florence, South Carolina.
It was at this time he was jailed, probably because he was an African-American
painting openly in the streets. This incident of blatant racism embittered
Johnson and he held an exhibit at the local YMCA before returning
to New York. Johnson visited North African in 1932 and produced watercolor
paintings while there. Returning to the States for lack of finances,
Johnson tried to sell and exhibit his paintings, but had little success.
Moving to New York City in 1938, Johnson painted religious works with
serious tones, signifying a major shift in his work. In the early
1940s he was hired as a mural painter for the WPA and taught at the
Harlem Community Art Center. With the death of his wife in 1943, Johnson
arranged her funeral and afterwards he remained in New York until
his own death.
Click here for a slideshow
of works by William H. Johnson !!!!!!!!!
August Savage (1900-1962)
was born in Florida to a family of fourteen children. At age six she
began modeling clay and taught clay modeling to other students while
she was in secondary school. With plans
to enter teaching she enrolled at the Tallahassee State Normal School
but transferred to school in New York to pursue art, becoming one
of the first women to attend Cooper Union. Threatened by financial
trouble the board of trustees lobbied for financial aid on Savage’s
behalf and a librarian at the New York Public Library obtained a commission
for Savage to produce a bust of W.E.B. Du Bois. This bust was considered
the finest portrait of Du Bois and Savage was commissioned to produce
busts of other African-American leaders, including Marcus Garvey.
In 1930 Savage went to France on a scholarship from the Julius Rosenwald
Fund. Returning to the US in 1932, she taught art classes at her Savage
School of Arts and Crafts. Savage joined the WPA in the mid-1930s
and was commissioned to do sculptural grouping for the New York World’s
Fair in 1939-1940.
Jacob Lawrence is
one of the most well known contemporary artists. Lawrence worked at
community workshops and became affiliated with Utopia House, where
studied with Charles Alston. In the 1930s he visited Augusta Savage’s
sculpting studio and met other artists involved in the Harlem Renaissance.
Lawrence credited much of his success to Savage because he felt she
played a key role in helping him obtain his first WPA assignment.
Lawrence’s painting style resembled printing because he used
primary colors and pictorial organization. His approach involved penciling
in scenes and then applying color and he developed this style while
he was still young. His panel series of Toussaint L’Ouverture
appeared in an exhibit of African-American artists in 1939. He also
created the Migration series reflecting the African-American experience
in the racist society of the US.
Keith Haring was the creator of the Crack is Wack
Mural at the Crack is Wack Playground in Harlem. Born May 4, 1958
in Reading, PA, Haring had his first experiences with at before he
was a year old. He
would scribble with crayons and his father showed him how to make
simple shapes and then how to make objects from those shapes. His
love of drawing continued and in high school he knew he wanted to
become an artist. Graduating in 1976, he attended the Ivy School in
Pittsburgh and quickly switched to the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.
From 1978 to 1980 he studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York
and at that time he was a theatrical performer and created live video
art, often performing at Club 57. Leaving SVA in 1980, Haring started
drawing graffiti on the streets of New York and his symbol became
a baby with rays around it. He started selling art out of his studio
and began associating with the Tony Shafrazi Gallery. Haring started
to gather international attention and won several awards while showing
his work all over the world. At this time, he started creating murals
and opened his own store, selling shirts and hats with his designs
on them. In 1988, he learned that he had contracted AIDS, and while
it didn’t affect his work initially, he eventually grew weaker.
In 1990, Haring died of AIDS at age 31.
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by Aubrie Dillon
Crafts were a large
part of African-American art when Blacks forcibly migrated to the
US during the Slave Trade. Slaves produced craft articles for personal
survival or because whites demanded them. Some personal creations
had mythic properties and their creators often kept their meanings
secret. The crafts took various forms such as patchwork quilts, pottery,
dolls, bone carvings, staffs, gravestones, baskets and shell beads.
Following emancipation, many former slaves were solely concerned with
finding work and surviving in a
racist society. As a result, many Blacks were not trained as artists
but many still expressed themselves creatively. Art was either modeled
after African traditions, a practice called Africanism, or it was
modeled after European styles. The latter method predominated and
African-American artists’ paintings and sculptures were judged
as to how well they fit into the European categories and styles of
art. Whites’ art often disparaged Blacks, depicting them as
During the beginning of the twentieth century, Black artists began
radically representing themselves and their newfound Americanism in
their art. During the 1920s, the Harlem Renaissance marked a period
of significant African-American contributions to the art field. Using
Americanism along with realism and ethnic consciousness, artists of
this period displayed confidence and poise, which resulted in self-respect
and pride. This led to greater group awareness and artists began supporting
one another to bolster and encourage visual arts. The Harlem Renaissance
spread the themes of the movement to other parts of the US, encouraging
African-American art along the way.
Murals were very popular during the 1940s to 1960s and American Blacks
adopted Mexican techniques of using murals to cover buildings. Artists
also used them to convey political, social and economic messages to
other artists within the community and the US at large. The struggle
for equal rights influenced a lot of the work during this period and
many artist conveyed the theme of self-determination through self-expression,
calling for formation of their own principles in evaluating their
art instead of using the European or white standards.
Art fulfilled the contemporary community’s needs for aggressive
social realization from 1960 to 1990, and many Black pursued education
and training in the arts. Acknowledging that differences are valuable,
artists used social realism, surrealism, abstract expressionism and
conceptual art among other styles to convey this message in their
art. Mediums visible during this period included mixed media assemblages,
additive, subtractive, and mixed media sculpture, craft drawings,
graphic art, and performance art.
Viewing Art in Harlem
by Aubrie Dillon
The Studio Museum in Harlem
144 West 125th Street
New York, NY 10027
(between Lenox Ave. and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.)
Directions to the Studio
Museum in Harlem
Take the 2, 3, A, B, C, D, 4, 5, 6 trains to 125th street station
Take the M-2, M-7, M-10, M-100, M-101, M-102, or BX 15 to 125th Street
Hours of Operation
Closed Mon and Tues
Students/Seniors (w/ valid ID): $3
Members/Children Under 12: Free
This contemporary art museum focuses on work of artists of African
descent and work inspired by African-American culture. Offering guided
tours, readings, concerts, lectures, and workshops this institution
also has an Artist-in-Residence program for emerging artists of African
descent. Current exhibitions include Harlemworld: Metropolis as a
Metaphor, Hirschfeld’s Harlem and Harlem Postcards Winter 2004.
Creating and Promoting
Art in Harlem
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by Aubrie Dillon
530 West 143rd Street
New York, NY 10031
This non-profit, community
based organization sponsors Arts in the Park and advocates for the
display of art in public spaces throughout Harlem and Hamilton Heights.
Arts Carnival of Harlem
62 Hamilton Terrace
212 234 4093
Started in 1968 and backed by the Museum of Modern Art, this carnival
allows youth to pain, draw, sculpt and participate in the arts by
creating their own. With the help of volunteers and teachers, students
learn principles of creating art while gaining valuable exposure to
the community. Projects have included painting, drawing, making gingerbread
houses, creating masks, and sculpting nudes.
Meetings Held First Monday of Every Month
The Theater of The Riverside Church
91 Claremont Avenue
New York, NY
(at 120th Street and Claremont Avenue)
Kicked off on December 20, 2001 at the Schomburg Center for Research
in Black Culture, the HAA has since been committed to preserving,
promoting, and presenting Harlem’s contributions as a community
to the world. This organization backs all arts including visual art,
dance, theater, music, poetry and Black history.
Douglass Creative Arts Center
270 West 96th Street
New York, NY 10025
Founded in 1971, this institution offers writing workshops for adult
students in poetry, short story, novel, screen writing and freelance.
It produces the annual Black Roots Festival of Poetry, Prose, Drama
and Music. There is also an after school program offering help with
homework, teaching computer skills and providing photojournalism workshops
Center of Harlem
614-18 West 125 Street
Founded in 1988, this institution provides free workshops in photography
to help Harlem’s youth learn a valuable skill which will hopefully
inspire creativity and positive self-expression. Many students have
converted their schooling here to work and eventually careers. The
center has a color lab, computer lab and photography studio and students
participate in desktop publishing for community organizations.
Through Her Eyes: Women
of Color Film Festival
Held By Women of Color Productions; 2004 with be the festival’s
Films displayed are created by or about women of color and this festival
gives them a chance to display their art and convey their messages.
Held at Peter Norton Symphony Space’s Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater
23 Broadway (SW corner of 95th)
Tickets are $10 for Adults; Students/Seniors $8; day pass is $21
Available at 212-864-5400 or symphonyspace.org