Thursday, February 17, 2011

Memory Lane

I recently saw a film that took me down memory lane, The Radiant Child, a documentary on Jean-Michele Basquiat, one of the greatest contemporary artists of the late 20th century. Basquiat arrived in Manhattan in 1978, when the City was considered dangerous and was graffiti decorated. It was also the epicenter of all things artistic, a place where neophytes and established artists rubbed shoulders and exchanged ideas. What fed The City’s creativity was its diversity, on all levels, both ethnic and socieo-economic. And its subway system that provided easy accesses to most of its five boroughs.

I had to watch the film a second time, not because I’d missed details of Jean-Michele’s life, but because I enjoyed reliving the time in New York that I’d love most. I’d been present at a couple of those art opening, thought I’d been to one of the parties, had bought several of Basquiat’s postcards when he was selling them on the street. I hope at least one of the people I sent them to saved theirs. I hadn’t kept one for myself.

I hung out a little with the downtown art since but it was the theatre world that got my attention in the late 70s. Lots of Off Broadway theatres had seasons. Every weekend we were saw a new play at La Mama, Henry Street, the NEC, the Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn and the myriad of other venues that were producing theatre in New York. Most of these companies have folded—fewer plays are being produced.

Manhattan still has a subway and it is still replete with galleries, museums and theatres but its explosive creative center is gone. Now. It’s much more homogeneous now. The City is more sanitized; artists from opposite ends of the economic spectrum are no longing mingling at the same social gatherings, fringe New York is disappearing. It still has ethnic diversity but to come to NY now you need bucks. New York isn’t the only city that’s gentrifying away its artist. Recently a friend from Austin said she felt the same thing was happening there. There is no one city that is the center for all things creative. Up and coming artists are scattered in small pockets all over the US.

Is this why we have U-Tube, why social networks continue to grow? A jazz bassist who relocated here more than a decade ago is reconnecting with the US jazz scene through Facebook, has had videos of some of his recent performances posted on U-tube. I guess our artistic epicenter now exist on the Internet—effective but sterile. Was glad I had the hands-on experience but reactivated my Facebook page. This may be sterile but it beats a blank.

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