Located at the northern end of Manhattan, Harlem has long been an important center of culture and creativity. From the Harlem Renaissance to today, the area has held a vital place as a historic center of African-American culture. It has hosted famous residents such as Zora Neale Hudson and Langston Hughes, brought together iconic artists such as Josephine Baker and Duke Ellington, and remains at the heart of New York’s artistic community. Although Harlem has changed as gentrification sets in north, there are still many cultural anchors that retain the historic soul of the neighborhood. From dance and jazz to museums big and small, here’s an art lover’s guide to Harlem.
Photo courtesy of Apollo Theater
Since its opening in 1914, the Apollo Theater stage has been graced by legends like Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown and Billie Holiday. Over the years, the theater has been the cultural heart of Harlem and continues to be a major force in the theater community. Throughout the year, the theater presents a diverse series of live performances, ranging from jazz bands and comedic actors to big stars like Alicia Keys and Jennifer Hudson. In addition to its programming, the Apollo is best known for another calendar staple: Amateur Night. The famous live talent competition, which has been around since the 1930s, has launched the careers of countless artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, Lauryn Hill, Busta Rhymes and HER
Photo courtesy of the Studio Museum of Harlem
The workshop museum
When the Studio Museum in Harlem opened in 1968, it was the first fine arts museum in the country to feature the work of black artists. Since then, the museum has been dedicated to promoting visual artists of African descent. With a permanent collection of more than 1,600 works of art including paintings, prints, photographs, sculptures, and more, the museum illuminates the experience of black people in the United States throughout history and sheds light current problems. Rotating exhibits highlight objects from the collection as well as contemporary artists working today.
Photo courtesy of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem
Jazz is the only distinctively American art form, and the National Jazz Museum in Harlem is an important guardian of the spirit and history of jazz music. Through exhibitions, educational initiatives, performances, and lecture series, the museum strives to preserve the musical form and engage with broad audiences. They explore the evolution of musical genres, entertain with live performances and, above all, connect us all through music.
Photo courtesy of Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
The Schomburg Center
Considered a pillar of the Harlem community, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is an archival institution of the New York Public Library dedicated to the experiences of African Americans, Africans, and the African Diaspora. It is a place that attracts scholars from around the world while remaining a cornerstone of its community. With over 11 million items in the collection, the center is a unique and leading research institution. In addition to its rented collection, public programming, and educational opportunities, the Schomburg Center also hosts exhibitions throughout the year that explore topics related to those of African descent.
“The Raphael Montanez Ortiz memorial to the sadistic Holocaust destruction of millions of our ancient Arawak-Taino-Latinez ancestors begun in 1492 by Christopher Columbus and his mission with the Conquistadores to colonize and deliver the wealth of the New World to Spain , no matter the human cost the New Worlds less than the aboriginal human inhabitants…” 2019-2020. Collection of the Museo del Barrio, New York. Gift of the artist.
The Barrio Museum
Located along Museum Mile in what was historically the neighborhood of Spanish Harlem, El Museo del Barrio is the premier Latin American and Latin American cultural organization. With a permanent collection of over 8,000 objects, the museum is the guardian of archaeological artifacts, paintings, photographs, sculptures, fine engravings and devotional relics that range from pre-Columbian times to the present day. Beyond the permanent collection and special exhibitions, the museum also runs a strong calendar of events that includes conferences, festivals, celebrations, and bilingual educational programming. El Museo del Barrio inaugurated this month the first major exhibition devoted to Raphael Montañez Ortiz, a key figure in the Destruction Art movement and founder of the Harlem Museum. Raphael Montañez Ortiz: a contextual retrospective will be open until September 11, 2022.
DTH Company in Higher Ground. Photo by Theik Smith; Courtesy of Dance Theater of Harlem
Harlem Dance Theater
Since its founding in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell, the first black principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, the Dance Theater of Harlem has been a pioneering force in the world of dance. Mitchell, who grew up in Harlem, established the company and an accompanying school to teach and present classical ballet in her community. Today, the company tours across the United States and internationally, while maintaining a strong presence in its longtime neighborhood. Those looking to get active can join open adult classes throughout the week, and fans of the company can check out their upcoming performance schedule on the website.
Apollo Theater, art, Dance Theater of Harlem, El Museo del Barrio, Studio Museum in Harlem