Tag Archives: Arts

Festival Season is Upon Us

“I would give anything – anything at all – to see Boris participate in the Big World Dance and would be eternally grateful to whoever would film him doing it”

gotham girlMy friends, my friends – Gotham Girl is back and how I have missed you! Everyone’s winter went well? Wasn’t too snowy or bone-chillingly cold?   I must say it went rather smoothly here in Gotham. Oh, sure we had lots of snow but the city is efficiency itself when it comes to clearing the streets. The snow is simply plowed into the nearest river – and Manhattan being a narrowish strip of land, the nearest river is never more than a few blocks away.

But winter is behind us now – which means festival season is upon us. Obviously festivals can happen at any time of year – I don’t say they can’t. Winter festivals are quite rightly scheduled in winter and pumpkin festivals during any season other than autumn would just be wrong.  But there is a density of festivals when the weather warms — festivals celebrating everything from music, sport, history, or holidays and which draw crowds from near and far, bringing people and their enthusiasms together.

Since there’s no way to cover all upcoming festivals in a single post, consider it a teaser of what awaits you when you check out the local “what’s happening” calendar online or in your local paper.

Both London and New York cities host major film festivals such as Lincoln Center’s New York Film Festival or the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival but both are also home to film festivals that celebrate specific genres such as NYC’s Horror Film Festival or its London counterpart, Frightfest Film Festival) or gatherings that focus on particular neighborhoods – East End Film Festival in London and the Queens International Film Festival in NYC).

One of my favorite NYC film festivals is the Bryant Park Summer Film Festival. I have already set aside my Monday evenings from late June to the end of August for these free outdoor movies. Think of it as a cross between a drive-in movie and a picnic. This year’s lineup is fantastic and every year, the musical selection – this year it is the 1956 hit Carousel – sees a park full of people singing in unison with enough enthusiasm to make up for any lack of skill (well, almost). I’m sure the crowd at last year’s screening of Sound of Music wouldn’t have won any awards but we had a great time.

I am told that there is a similar film series held at Somerset House each summer called the Film4 Summer Screen. Now, I don’t know what this year’s line up of titles is but if previous year’s selections are anything to go by, there is quite an entertaining range of films to choose from – everything from classic sci-fi to films fresh from their debut at Cannes.

Another thing that London and NYC share is a multi-layered, very robust food scene so it’s not surprising that food festivals are heavily featured in the event schedules for both cities. If food is your thing – all kinds, a certain kind, talking about it, eating it, cooking it, looking at it – there are more and more festivals every year aimed at food lovers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Taste of London (June 17-20) offers live demonstrations so you can watch chefs in action, champagne master classes and tasting menus. If all that talk of food has made you thirsty, never fear – beer is here. Or rather it will be at the Great British Beer Festival (Aug 3-7).

One of the great food festivals in NYC is the San Gennero Festival (Sept 16-26) down in Little Italy. I’m not sure how to do the colors, food and people justice. What I can tell you is that after consuming all the food you were unable to resist – and why would you want to? – you may feel more like rolling than walking. Of course, there’s more than food – there are live bands, shopping and book signings as well. But you know the real reason to go is the annual Cannoli Eating Competition, right?

Travel to foreign lands is great not to mention educational but let’s face it – it takes time and money, two things none of us seem to have going spare these days. Not to worry! There is a way to immerse yourself in other cultures with much less travel time, significantly less money and in a way that does not involve dodging clouds of volcanic ash. In both New York and London, you’ll find festivals featuring the sights, sounds and tastes of almost any culture you can imagine (and some that might never have occurred to you).

Thinking Thai? For one day, the food and fashion, the music and sport and regional variations that make up Thai culture will be in one place at one time – the place is the [email protected] and the time is June 5. Want something with a more Latin vibe? Try Carnaval del Pueblo (August 1), the largest Latin American outdoor festival in Europe. Activities include salsa competitions (warm up those hips and get twirling), food (you don’t realize how diverse Latin American cuisine is until you see it stretched out before you region by region) because you can’t have Carnaval without it – a Carnaval Parade. Looking for more scope? Toast Festival 2010 (September 24-26) celebrates not a single culture but the whole Southern hemisphere! Maori performers will perform, Gumboot dancers will dance, African drummers will drum and festival attendees can enjoy all of it while sampling regional delicacies and drinking regional wines.

Over here in NYC, Caribbean Week is on my must do list this year – “Rum & Rhythm” event in particular. There’s something really exciting about Caribbean culture – that mix of Dutch, French and Spanish that comes through in the food and the music in so many ways. While Sweden Day promises less spice than Caribbean Week, it sounds no less interesting and I’m always up for a good maypole raising.

There are so many ways to celebrate the arts in both New York and London, visitors and residents of each are spoilt for choice. But one of the great things about going the “festival” route to get your artistic fix is that so many of the events are free!

One event I look forward to every year in NYC is the Museum Mile Festival. Museum Mile is a 20 block-stretch of Fifth Avenue that is home to some of the greatest Museums in the world (the Cooper-Hewitt, Guggenheim & the Metropolitan Museum of Art to name just a few) and on Festival day, those blocks become a pedestrian plaza featuring live musical performances in front of each museum and special programs (indoors and out).

Feeling bookish? Try the London Literature Festival (July 1-15). This is more than just literary types deconstructing Derrida (do they even do that anymore? Have I dated myself?). There may well be a few people discussing Derrida (and dating themselves much as I have here) but there will also be debates on democracy, writing workshops, author talks, outdoor performances of great works – and yes, reading.

I did notice that London will be getting its groove thing on this summer with The Big Dance 2010 from July 3-11. Apparently it all comes to a toe-tapping, hip-swiveling, hand-waving climax on July 10 with the Big World Dance – 10,000 people dancing their way to Trafalgar Square on Saturday 10 July 2010. I would give anything – anything at all – to see Boris participate in the Big World Dance and would be eternally grateful to whoever manages to film him doing it.

Some festivals strive to be all things to all people. And some – like River to River here in NYC and the City of London Festival – are big enough to accomplish it. These mega-festivals bring events of all kinds to spaces across the cities. They might be musical concerts, dance performances, film screenings, lectures and walking tours – and – again – the majority of events are free.

Those pianos scattered randomly around London last summer? That was part of the City of London Festival and they are coming back by popular demand. This year, the City of London festival has an interesting triptych of themes including: 1) culture and arts from the Portuguese-speaking world, 2) the 200th birthday of Chopin and finally 3) most intriguing to me a program of events featuring bees and beehives. Yes, I said bees. There will be bee-related poetry and bee seminars. The Festival will also be ‘commissioning’ new honey. And by commissioning, they appear to mean through the installation of beehives throughout the City.

I didn’t seen anything bee-related on the schedule for the River to River Festival, the mother of all NYC festivals, but there was quite a lot that did catch my eye – like the Swedish Midsummer Festival, the World Financial Center Restaurant Showcase and the New Amsterdam Walking Tour.

So, go on and get festive! Try the food, dance the dance, watch the film, “travel the world” in your own backyard. There are so many festivals I didn’t have room to include – the Mayor’s Thames Festival for one but he knows what deadlines are like so I hope he will forgive me. Here are some online resources for finding upcoming London festivals:

Arts and Culture in the Metropolis

Tower of London
Tower of London

The Mayor’s Priorities for Culture 2009-12.  See the document here for his vision on maintaining London’s position as a world centre of cultural excellence.

For an another viewpoint let’s turn to Gotham Girl’s analysis of transatlantic museum visiting.

The British Museum wallops the Met in ancient civilizations

The Elgin Marbles – that is a proper test of wills

The Tate Modern is notably NOT just a storage space 

I love museums. I live only a short walk from Museum Mile here in Manhattan so museums figure prominently in my leisure schedule at home as well as abroad.

Few places in New York offer better “people watching” than the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met for short). Few places in New York offer more beautiful views than the roof of the Met.

I don’t think the front of the British Museum offers quite the same experience.

great_hall Met
Metroplitan Museum of Art

At the Met, I can curl up with a book in Engelhard Court. I frequently head to the Temple of Dendur to visit with friends. We can – and do – even enjoy lunch or drinks now that they’ve reclaimed the first floor for the Greek and Roman galleries and the eateries have had to move downstairs. This move hasn’t done much for the Greek and Roman collections but it has improved the “grab a bite of lunch” experience at the Met tenfold.

Still, museums are, on many levels, the sum of the collections and much as I love the Met as a whole, certain galleries don’t fare very well when compared to their British Museum counterparts. The British Museum wallops the Met in ancient civilizations. The Greek and Roman collection of the Met is a bit “meh” – well, a lot “meh.” The Temple of Dendur, aside, their Egyptian collection isn’t much better and is displayed abysmally. As for controversial artifacts – the Met pales in comparison. Sure, Turkey went after the Metropolitan about the Lydian Horde but the Met returned it so – in a mere six or so years – that was that. The Elgin Marbles – that is a proper test of wills. Impressive.  Oh and here’s a handy tip – don’t make remarks on how “liberated” the marbles look within earshot of guards. Goodness, how that man glared. Still, it wasn’t as bad as the time at Westminster Abbey when I stomped on Thomas Hardy’s name in Poet’s Corner. Still, that’s another story for another time (and in my defense I think MOST people would like to stomp on Thomas Hardy).

Continue reading Arts and Culture in the Metropolis