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SWIFT AS N.Y.C. AMBASSADOR

IS NOT WELCOME ON THE L.E.S.

Published in: The Villager, New York, on November 27, 2014
Source: http://thevillager.com/2014/11/27/swift-as-n-y-c-ambassador-is-not-welcome-on-the-l-e-s/
see also activities: Welcome to New York

The conflict now is not democracy versus fascism or communism. It is democracy versus corporate capitalism.

A stunning example of corporate capitalism dominating our democracy and freedom is the appointment of Taylor Swift — with her song “Welcome to New York” — as New York City’s cultural ambassador. Sure, she is hot right now, top of the pop charts, cute and yes, good for tourism. But is that enough to be our N.Y.C. cultural ambassador? A face of tourism, O.K. But what is her connection to the city?

Is tourism more important than history, opportunity, the right of a New Yorker to make it here? The old “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere” is now what?

Our history is being erased, the high rents have made it difficult to stay in the community, the small businesses are being pushed out. It is important to realize, using Ludlow St. from Delaney to Houston, as an example, that many of the small family- and privately owned businesses were successful.

A partial list of business that have been forced out because of escalating rent includes the Pink Pony, Max Fish, Motor City, El Sombrero, Earth Matters and Spitzers — all closed.

Our area has become an entertainment zone oversaturated with bars, student dorms and tourism, and filled every weekend with spring break fever.

Change is inevitable, and, no, we don’t want the drugs and crime back. But there has to be a happy medium between middle- and low-income people being allowed to live, work and own small businesses, and the takeover by people with full pockets.

It was affordable rent and the chance to live an inexpensive lifestyle that created the chance for genius to develop. The history of the Lower East Side is filled with people who came to the city with little and went on to make a serious contributions to the culture of America: Madonna, Charlie Parker, Steve Cannon, Philip Glass, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Weegee, Allen Ginsburg, Alan Kaufman, Ellen Stewart, Emma Goldman, Dorthy Day, Leon Klinghoffer, who invented the Roto-Broiler, a metal oven that consisted of a rotisserie, and was killed aboard the Achille Lauro. The list is long.

The next generation of “Making It in N.Y.C.” is now imported talent like Taylor Swift. We have exported the jobs and imported the talent.

I cannot blame Taylor Swift for accepting this opportunity. The push to get her replaced by a N.Y.C. talent is not about her as a talent or a person. It is not about an older generation lamenting the loss of our past. I am working with a young up-and-coming band called DAMEHT, who I hope will become recognized and be able to survive as musicians. I too am in a position where the chances of my staying in N.Y.C. are slim. To save my photo archive and life’s work, I am working on moving to Austria.

The L.E.S. is a part of my being, of who I became. But what chance do any of us struggling artists have if the city is importing talent?

There is no question we have an overabundance of local pop and music talent that tourists would recognize as representing the city, as well, as New York songs written by local talent.

I have documented many of the changes caused by gentrification on the L.E.S. But this next form of gentrification, importing creative talent, is a form I could never have imagined. I was sitting around discussing this problem with Rivington, DAMEHT’s singer and songwriter, and his editor, Jeff Hammer.

We decided the best source for material that we had quick access to was my biopic, “Captured,” directed by Ben Solomon and Dan Levin and edited by Jenner Furst. Since most of the material in this movie belonged to Elsa Rensaa and myself, we thought, “Rip it, use the material.” Jeff did an all-nighter and came up with the video in this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukxGWe18GOs

It is not that we are saying GG Allin is the best example of an alternative to Taylor Swift, but he definitely represents a style of the ’80s and ’90s. So far, our youtube video has had more than 25,000 views: proof that people are disenchanted with being sold out.

It is time for a change. We need more than the Housewives and the Kardashians to aspire to. I hope we can use this video to help make a change — to get the politicians to wake up and use a local talent as the face of tourism. Wake up, N.Y.C.!

COMMENTS (42)

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commentQuilas: GG Allin represents "a style" the way Charles Manson represents "a style". To her credit, Taylor Swift is not a psychopath! You couldn't find anyone more current to use? Do you know any new bands?
Any artist that needs desolation to be inspired is not short on options. Cleveland and Detroit both come to mind. BTW, 25,000 views on YouTube is not a lot. Cat videos are in the millions.
commentRon Kolm: Thank God Clayton is still in there pitching! Great column, and the video is well done. Unfortunately, Taylor Swift is the face of what NYC has become, or is becoming. She is so thin, and so white, and so rich, she almost doesn't exist -- anyone can read anything they want into her. She's as safe as a glass of milk. For what it's worth, I feel that the period we're living in is vaguely analogous to the late '50s, and I don't see anything remotely like the Beats on the horizon. Almost all of the music I hear in the city now is retro; a copy of something that happened years ago. Clothing styles and haircuts are all from the past; it's as if the '60s, '70s and '80s never happened. Perhaps this is a reaction to 9/11; denizens of the empire retreating into safer, duller waters. It would be nice if Clayton's film signaled the start of something new!
commentGerhard T: Hey Clayton, We thought you were moving to Austria. Was ist los mit du?
commentGuest: Can you support Ludlow House and not Taylor Swift? the only difference is that one's a place and the other is a person. it's hard to follow someone's ideas when their moral compass is so wobbly.
commentAkpoem2@aol.com: Clayton is arguing for the soul of culture itself. For the past half century NY has served as cultural capital of the West. In that not too distant past, if a 'Cultural Ambassador' had been needed at all (personally, I find the concept vulgar, needless and suburban) someone like Wilhelm DeKooning, Kathy Acker, Quincy Troupe, Ed Clark, Allen Ginsberg, or Philip Glass or Joseph Papp or Diane Arbus or Susan Sontag could easily have stood as emblematic of NYC. If all of these artists and authors bore a single correlative quality it was this and this alone: substance. They were people and artists of substance. Their works and lives represented a complete commitment to an expression of the highest levels of the human spirit. They were, esthetically, creatives of the first rank--people whose lives stood for the highest level of cultural calling and commitment. But a Taylor Swift represents, at best, yet one more example of how artists, writers, thinkers of, at best, a superficial vision and careeer have come to command the sympathies and resources of our culture, while someone line Clayton Patterson, whose feat of documenting what must be, arguably, the most historically and culturally important sector of NYC--the Lower East Side--has not only been denied the recognition that he deserves, but cannot even find a home for his archives. His archives are, in my estimation, one of the most important national treasures in the United States and like so many of our artists and artistic communites, his papers are, to this day, homeless. All that is derserving and noble and good about our culture is dispossessed, pushed aside, hidden, and slowly perishing of neglect, despite the courage of a Patterson or Kolm or Dalachinsky or Finberg or a Jim Feast--writers, artists, thinkers who give their all to what they do and strive to produce something greater then a pop charts hit song. They are our May Ray, our Camus, our Eliot, our Djuna Barnes and we offer them nothing, not even breadcrusts and water. This is the heart of the matter. It is not a matter of GG Allen or Ludlow House vs. Taylor Swift and to reduce Clayton's position to that and that alone is to miss the much larger subtext of his courageous and unflagging stance. He is standing against the Wasteland that we have allowed our greatest city--NY-- and our country to become. He is calling for collective action by great individual artists to begin to join in an alternative authentic culture where courage and visionary depth are celebrated. And he is requesting us to assemble on behalf of these lost values before we ourselves are forever lost to time and neglect.
commentclayton patterson: The video is of two extremes. I will try and make simple what this video is attempting to do. First off the hope was to get people to think, to start some sort of dialogue. The effort, if possible, is to find a middle ground between two extremes.
On the one side is the uber-rich and the international corporate taking over of NYC. Using our tax dollars to import expensive talent to jump over existing internationally recognized stars, which tourists are already pouring into the city to see. And using ready-made corporate cookie cutter corporate businesses, one can find anywhere in the free world, to crush and force out the small, and even the large, NYC independent businesses.
On the extreme opposite are examples of what NYC used to represent. Chaos, anarchy, and no rules on almost all levels of society. Extremes used to look for a middle ground.
One the one hand you have the coiffed and tailored Taylor Swift made up to look like an innocent high school sweet heart one would find on a feel good show like Happy Days. But in reality she has been on the top end of the ruthless music business for years and has made millions of dollars. Sorry to point out to the person who confuses her with the L.E.S. luxury Ludlow apartments, but that is an unrealistic comparison. The new luxury Ludlow apartments are not luxury for someone in her economic zone. She recently purchased a 19-½ million dollar loft. Ludlow luxury- too poor.
I was comparing Taylor’s limitless fashion budget to the use of what you have available Drag Queen’s budget that created the annual Tompkins Sqaure Park Wigstock extravaganza.
G.G. Allin is an extreme opposite and so are the rest of the relevant NYC historic examples: the Washington Square Park riot between Skin Heads, Communists, Anarchists, over the, then, recent Joey Johnson flag burning case, the shot of the cops running after protestors as they disobeyed the orders of a ranking officer lead to the night being classified as a Police Riot, the Tompkins Square Park homeless clearing shot is from the 3rd term of Koch when the rules of converting low-income housing and SRO’s to coops and condos loosened up which lead to thousands of homeless to the T.S.P. Tent City. The white shirt Galfand went on to become a Chief, and out of this Downtown period a number of cops rose through the ranks and became chiefs: Esposito, Hoel, Julian, Ray Kelly became Police Commissioner. Julian, at the time in NYPD history, was the youngest captain, deputy inspector, chief, and he is back under Bratton. Bloomberg brought back Kelly. After Koch’s 3rd term “The People” voted twice in a referendum no 3rd term. Bloomberg bought 3rd terms. And on and on.
But, my mistake was thinking people would see past surface and a conversation could be started. Big mistake. And btw- to answer questions- I just got back from Austria. I am supporting the young local band DAMEHT. Cat videos I do not know, but assume is a corporate video with a sizable budget, my video was made over night. with no budget. For a no budget outsider video with now over 27,000 views that is a lot, in fact, if thought about this YouTube as a screening at Madison Square Garden it would be a compete success. MSG only holds just over 18,000 visitors.
I am startled by how many people support the international and uber-rich take over of NYC. Not sure what the average person gets out of this support, but it is beyond my comprehension. Last comment-- if possible, can we start a dialogue on how to find a middle ground before too many of us are obliterated from the NYC landscape? Is anyone home?
commentYura: Great voice! Keep them coming, Clayton!
commentsimon: Here's some REAL New Yorkers telling it how its all going down...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtjvLKI6zgI&list=UUwJ888eH1PS-TL5Pa9EqB4Q
Chloe Sevigny would have been a better Ambassador!
commentSur: we're living in the U.S that has never had any concern about respecting history and chooses to constantly rewrite history to "promote" a future that the powers that be want to see. this is nothing new. the best we can do to ride against that tide is continue to do our work, get it out there, protest, make films, write articles, publish books, engage with social media, create performances, and whatever else so that there is some alternative that exists out there that people can come to by accident or by intention. we're weighed under capitalism and most of our lives are controlled by money. we can play with it or against it but WE MUST CONTINUE to rail against what we see as destructive and inhumane every chance that we get. what's represented here in this taylor swift promotion obviously a manifestation of a large evil that's been destroying culture for decades and accelerating it seems.
commentAmy: I am sitting at home, in my bedroom, on the Lower East Side where I have lived for thirty years. I believe that New York City has always been about change and as it evolved cultural contributions of the previous generation were welcomed by next generation. In the 1980's I was thrilled to walk the same streets as Charlie Parker and Allen Ginsberg. It is disturbing now feel that the people crowding the streets below my window seem to have no knowledge, or dare I say reverence, for what happened here a few decades ago. It is not that I am against change, it is that I am against forgetting the lessons we have learned and losing the impact of great moments of cultural expression, early Wigstock, Pageants to save community gardens, street performances, many art galleries and performance spaces, all which made up a makeshift community which fed itself, grew and flowered beautifully while also being gritty and dangerous. Am I just not seeing how the history is being shared, or is there a loss here that those of us who were there have one last chance to resurrect? I'm developing a photo series and writing about this subject. I know what happened, but I want to find the words and images to communicate this to a greater audience, including the throngs of Taylor Swifts down in the street making all that noise.
commentSparrow14: Taylor Swift as spokesperson for New York City? C'mon! It's insulting! Let her represent Westchester.
commentLucas: Well put. Thanks for the perpective Clayton
commentGuest: Well I guess many believe she represents the new improved and wealthy LES/NYC... So perhaps all the artists who so loved and participated, migrated and collaborated could create an Internet presence and consider electing their own ambassador and anthem?
commentAvramFefer 1p: As we are undoubtedly aware, we are in a period of interconnectedness and complexity. There seem to be an endless number of issues swirling around everyone's heads and hearts, with varying degrees of relatedness and causal influence. New York, to me, has always been a place that embraced complexity, diversity, and co-existence. There are many incredible and amazing cities around the world, and I have been lucky enough to perform in quite a few of them, but one thing that has always stood out about NYC is it's inherent "take me as I am" attitude.
Tourism plays an important role for many great cities and these cities in turn make an effort to accommodate these tourists, but in New York we have always provided such a variety of income steams and economic opportunities that tourism seemed to play a more modest role and those tourists who did want the "New York experience" always got one---they were obliged to deal with New Yorkers! They came here and accommodated us, in our natural environment, and not the other way around...
New York maintained a wild, untamed, natural, expressive, and artistic experience. It was not 'more of the same' old consumerist mainstream culture that America has become famous for since WW II -- Instead it was an antidote for that white bread American feeling that has been alive and well on these shores for centuries. New York was edgy, challenging, engaging, maybe even a bit dangerous, but it had it's own culture---it's own extreme version of everything and everyone else. More than just the 'tired, huddled masses', NYC attracted both the rejects and the most ambitious and talented from everywhere else. If you didn't fit in anywhere else, then you definitely would fit in in NYC!! (Looking back, it seemed like a real live version of the freak show that now only exists online.) All strata of society were seemingly represented and, even though we never made it easy for anybody, we did always seem to take pride in our tough love uniqueness and individual warm-heartedness.
Now, we seem to be creating an NYC that lacks many of these qualities and is less and less maintaining its own special and difficult character. We are like someone in a relationship that tries so hard to become only what the other person likes, that they end up losing their own personality and their relationship to boot! There are double decker tour busses everywhere, we are constantly being looked at like zoo animals (instead of the predatory animals we used to be...) and more and more it seems like I'm late to an appointment due to tourists standing in the middle of a crowded intersection/sidewalk/turnstile...
So, I guess I'm already dubious of the role tourism plays in NYC, let alone the need for a cultural ambassador. I am not sure what the point of a cultural ambassador is, and in New York City's case, it seems like, if we really need one, they damn well better represent the heart and guts of the city. If all we need is a song, and if the default is no longer Sinatra's "New York" , then maybe I would nominate Alicia Keys, at least there's some inherent diversity and a pretty good tune.
Even though I am a musician, I have to admit that I have no idea who Taylor Swift is, and certainly no idea what her music sounds like. She seems to be very young, white, female, rich, and blond---perhaps the perfect ambassador for some city somewhere, I don't know.
commentDutchess333: Brilliant video and points well made, Clayton, NIck and others. I only hope this discourse, both in words and images, inspires more authentic NYC video responses: satirical, of somber tone, sarcastic, inspiring as Kat's Deli and the NY Philharmonic and also completely abstract, surreal, obtuse and congenial...all challenges to this stale, generic, mediocre, idiotic, and yet perhaps inevitable choice, as creativity, from the Main Island to the Outer Burroughs and beyond, seems to be on the waning side. May this choice and discourse be a clarion call to what is indeed most needed: the rising up of the NY voices, both currently residing and longing to return. Let us keep representing what it is that made and will again make NYC the cutting edge of culture and the birthplace of the REAL~!!!
commentLiz Pressman: New York City started losing its soul when our accents started being replaced with valley girl speak in the 1980s. The selling of the city to real estate moguls over the years has led to the mallification of this town, as historic buildings and sites are demolished and as actual working class and middle class native New Yorkers have been forced out of their homes (because we don't make six figure salaries). It's another slap in the face to lifelong native New Yorkers that the city is now offering a non-native New Yorker the position of ambassador. Being an ambassador implies you are from a given place. Taylor Swift is not from here. There are s many talented people who are from this gorgeously creative town. Why not give this position to someone who truly represents our essence?
commentJim Feast: Dear Villager, I just read Clayton Patterson’s powerful piece on the travesty of presenting Taylor Swift as a New York City’s cultural ambassador. He questions whether in New York City now “is tourism more important than history, opportunity, the right of a New Yorker to make it here?”
It’s a particular slap in the face in that in her music Swift eschews the two themes that have predominated in New York-associated poetry and music lyrics. One theme is a protest against the arrogance of power. Think of Ginsberg’s blast at the Moloch of a warfare state, Corso’s screed on the atomic bomb, Alan Kaufman’s Whitman poem about the “American inferno,” Lou Reed’s songs about the wild side. The second theme is a vision of a collective happiness. Here one must place Whitman’s embrace of all peoples, Hart Crane’s vision of the Brooklyn Bridge as a symbol of Americans’ unity, the early Talking Heads’ paeans to joys of everyday life.
This Judy Come Lately, Taylor Swift, spits on such themes. Obviously, she would never attack the powers that be who gave her a career. But, moreover, she is totally without vision. Her songs are retro hymns to individual not collective happiness. She sings, “We're drivin' down the road … you're just so cool, run your hands through your hair // Absent-mindedly makin' me want you.” Retro in that – feminism be damned – a woman’s greatest joy is being owned by a man.
“Our history is being erased,” Patterson writes. How can it not be if gutless drones, such as Taylor Swift and her ilk, are given charge of it?
commentMatthew Kohn: The simplest way to put it - as Clayton seems to indicate - is not that there is one specific way of seeing NYC. Since government using artists to represent itself is always controversial, it seems that instead of having "one" cultural ambassador, there should be many, rotating ambassadors who would indicate the tremendous diversity of what has already been achieved, what is happening now, and what young artists hope for the future of New York. That would be bold and welcoming. I'm a native New Yorker, more or less, but that's why we stayed - because everyone who was interesting came here.
commentAlex King: Gentrification is proceeding at a fast pace around the world. I grew up in Hackney, East London, which in some ways could be seen as the Lower East Side's spiritual cousin: for decades it was too dirty and dangerous for anyone but the poor and immensely creative to set foot in (for a while it held the record for the highest density of artists anywhere in the world) but that soon changed as the money flooded in, the apartment blocks went up and the creativity evaporated.
Londoners are fighting to stay in the areas that they and their families were raised in, and it is often international property funds that are pushing them out. The New Era estate in one of Hackney's most trendy areas, Hoxton is a perfect example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqTAGPgL6qk As the rents rise, the artists and people who need space and freedom to express themselves are dispersed to far flung corners of the city. Creative communities decades in the making are gone for ever.
This is happening around the world and has been well-documented, however New York is the first city I have seen that seems to be deliberately tearing up its own culture. The Taylor Swift video is one example, as is the physical removal of Jim Mosaic Man's work from the streets, and I'm sure you New Yorkers will know many more.
Please fight to protect, nurture and continuing adding to the phenomenal cultural wealth New York has created over the decades before it all disappears completely.
commentafn: despite the new mayor, the taylor swift co-sign is a classic bloomberg administration PR move: sell new york as though it were a business, as if the city were nothing more than a luxury hotel looking for guests.
the gigantic problem with this model is that cities are not business; they're ecosystems, and ecosystems require maintenance and balance in order to thrive. Right now, the emphasis that's placed on pandering to one particular socioeconomic group has been entirely at the expense of diversity, which has been at the core of this city's essence since it's inception. the tragedy is that the new culture of new york city is that which taylor swift might truly be the face of: rich, white and bland.
it's unfortunate that the character which originally gave new york it's cache and mystique is what led to its commodification, and, ultimately, the complete shriveling of it's cultural relevance.
commentPenny Arcade: While the Ferguson Demonstrations were going on I wondered what Taylor Swift was thinking about her version of NY.
I agree with Clayton Patterson that it is not surprising that Swift would accept the offer of Cultural Ambassador of NY after all she is part of the corporate machine and has been since her father invested in the record label that produces her records.
The question that comes to mind immediately is WHO in the Mayor's Office would have agreed to offer a neophyte who just moved to NY , who has no association with NY this role? An even more important question is why were not the citizens of NY consulted on who WE feel is an appropriate artist to represent our city?
There is no question that the choice of Taylor Swift as Cultural Ambassador of NY is an exceedingly poor choice in a city where so many internationally famous artists have made their home and their artistic reputations for decades , Debby Harry, Patti Smith,Fran Lebowitz, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, Martin Scorcese,Robert DeNiro among so many others. Clearly the choice of Swift who has lived here fr a matter of months and who appeals to the lowest common demoninator shows the thoughtlessness of the action and the crassness of of poor marketing even as it shows the desire to homogenize NY further as a destination for the tackiest kind of tourism.
The voice of the people of NY has long been silenced as the corporate powers that have invaded the government of our city have taken over public space as private endeavor such as selling St Vincents Hospital to private interests.
I understand and share the frustration and anger at Taylor Swift's appointment, a person who has no association with NY and in in the light of her absolutely embarrassing song about NY when NY has so many brilliant anthems to choose from . Clearly anyone who writes about coming to NY to find a great cup of coffee, in a song about NY, has confused NY with Seattle!
I feel all we are doing is giving Taylor Swift more publicity and we should turn our sights on who was BEHIND this appointment because that person or persons is an enemy of NY and an enemy of New Yorkers. New York is continually losing our cultural capitol with the loss of so many historic places showing the absolute lack of considerations for history that elected officials have towards our city. All over American and internationally people live with and protect their history , here in NY it is for sale to the highest bidder. There is NO URBAN PLANNING in this city now, it is a free for all for free market capitalism....services that ordinary NY'ers use daily are done away with ! Hospitals, gas stations etc There is clearly an agenda to turn NY into a city for Ogliarchs, the ultra rich and tourists. New Yorkers RISE UP!
Power to The People!
commentGuest: I'm no fan of TS, but our problem is that we have no one better instead of her. Those who are starting out now like we did 3 decades ago cannot afford an apartment in this area. This has drained our farm system, we have no minor leaguers, so that all we have left is to draft players from other teams on the left coast. If there are any up and coming artists who will one day be the cool we seek, they do not live in the LES. Maybe Bushwick or Bed Stuy, but even those places not for long. I've read all of these comments, and didn't find a thing that couldn't have been written in the '90s or earlier. Face it kids, we're a bunch of has-been, old people, and we have no heirs in this neighborhood. Shout all we want, but Dialogue ain't gonna change that unless it's with the mayor or governor.
commentPhil Shoenfelt: Yeah, G.G. Allin, the guy with the smallest dick in the world, after Sid Vicious (or maybe it was just a cold night at A7). I'm not so sure I'd agree that G.G. was representative of 80s New York downtown culture, anymore than I'd agree with Ms Barbiedoll Swift being representative of it today. But I get Clayton's point: there should be some middle ground between total social collapse and total social control/brainwashing, which is the situation we're coming to today. When I lived in Alphabet City in the late 70s and early 80s it was certainly a more stimulating place than it is today. I'd play with my band Khmer Rouge at CBGBs, get the cash at the end of the night and trip on down to Avenue D to purchase the goods. On the way down there, and afterwards (having copped) trying to make it back to where I lived on 3rd and B, I'd try to avoid the psychos and muggers that were hanging around in darkened doorways, waiting for people like me. It certainly kept life interesting, and at the risk of sounding pretentious I'd sum up my view with Friedrich Neitzsches aphorism: "That which does not kill me makes me stronger". It was an important formative experience for me, that much is sure. Today when you walk down by 3rd and B all you see is crap art galleries, sushi bars and vacuous rich-kid students whose parents have bought them a flat in trendy Alphabet City. These people have no culture, no past and a virtual-reality future. The new "Know-Nothings" of the soul-less here-alread future. Meanwhile, NYU and Cooper Union are involved in what amounts to a kind of ethnic cleansing. So much for these hallowed institutions of learning, selling out the people to the corporate Yankee dollar. Depressing, yes very, but how to fight this creeping castration of culture I have no idea. I admire your rear-guard action, Clayton, and more power to you. But to be honest I think the move to Austria is the best thing you can do. But make damn sure you find a permanent home for your archive, man, this is the most important thing you can do. New York is famously cavalier about documenting its "unofficial" cultural legacy. No blue plaques for CBGBs or Max;s Kansas City, even The Factory is barely commemorated. You've got such an important part of late 20th century social and cultural history sitting under your roof, you've GOT to find a home for it. Best wishes from Prague, Phil Shoenfelt
commentBonny Finberg: Cultural interchange As Commodity. Recently, I've been receiving invites to readings and open mics which I find disturbing. That is, there's a growing protocol for curating "open mics" in NYC--paying for the privilege of reading for 3 minutes, along with 20 or more readers, in front of your so-called peers. It's become the norm. I think it's partly the result of an oppressive financial struggle that is transforming a once vital community that shared creative energy with generous spontaneity and openness into a cancer feeding upon itself. Maybe the metaphor is harsh, but it seems that we've arrived at a place where the struggling artist tries to make ends meet by feeding on the limited resources of other struggling artists. The venues themselves are also strapped for revenue trying to keep up with the voracious appetite of developers and landlords.
Whatever happened to a bunch of writers congregating somewhere over drinks and conversation to share work? Sometimes "advanced tickets" are offered where booking with a reservation and buying a ticket on line is cheaper than at the door. Bookstores don't charge for readings, but maybe that's just around the corner since bookstores are lately only able to make ends meet by selling coffee and muffins. Maybe this it not so much the case in Bklyn, I don't know. Maybe this is mostly in Manhattan where a diseased culture is dying so fast I dread my daily assault of yet another beloved part of my history disappearing. The trust fund/college student demographic that's overpopulating downtown and the cultural landscape in general, is more able and willing to pay to read at a famous boho downtown venue where they can be famous for three minutes over an $8 beer and the price of admission. Culture had always had it's group of independently wealthy artists/bohemians who found themselves at the cutting edge of art and literary movements. But they were the eccentrics of their class, not the paying class with privileged access to some mainstream, sanitized version of underground, counterculture. Bohemian movements were a class in themselves. They lived in the dark underworld where nothing was sacred. Thus the word counterculture. Those of the privileged class who ventured there were, for the most part, highly educated people who had the leisure time in which to create great things without the pressures of scrounging for food and shelter. The trust funders now "produce" within a designated club of "experimentation" that is closed and highly opaque, able to spend their time patting each other on their ironic backs to see who can be the most inutile, incomprehensible and, in some cases, most juvenile. Their MFA's seem to make them feel entitled to offer work that is within as closed a system and full of "theory" and jargon, as impenetrable, as that of nuclear physicists but without the benefit of application. I'm not talking about truly transformative experimentation which elevates the word or the construction in some new way that celebrates language or art. I'm talking about those lazy-assed endeavors which take the approach of reprocessing existent work, text or image, and give it the stamp of approval by calling it "appropriation", as if that makes it ok to recycle the efforts of others, a favored activity of those without imagination or original thought.
It may seem that I've ventured from the original subject here. But the commodification of the open mic seems to me a reflection of so much of what's wrong in the present culture. The diaspora of artistic communities is driven by real estate prices and its necessary MFA badge of approval. In order to secure one's food and shelter one must enter into a Darwinian system of academic evolution which produces clones of those that preceded by adapting to a hostile environment; by success within an environment always on the brink of extinction due to overpopulation within shrinking resources. This has perverted the trajectory of artistic movements and threatens where our culture is headed. We seem to have lost our way. I don't delude myself in thinking there haven't always been careerists and competitive artists in every age.Yet, in the current climate,Taylor Swift is the logical NYC "Cultural" ambassador for a world where celebrity, ambition and commerce have replaced a sense of community and camaraderie. It doesn't seem that long ago when the free exchange of ideas and work was an easy and permeable micro society. One could enter without pricey tuition, and overtime spent in classrooms and workshops. Many of our predecessors, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, all had excellent educations and profited from them. But their lives after school were not spent in recycling what they had learned. They went on to live in the world and break new ground. The only ground being broken right now is our beloved community which is being destroyed both spiritually and physically by the blind wrecking ball of bland, corporate greed.
commentanne: my name is Anne Apparu-Hall, i have lived and grown in NYC since a little girl off the Bowery. everything has changed so much. there were buildings lined up throughout midtown for $.99 in the late 80's. the city was dark at night, and the streets empty. to shop for gifts 8th street and st Marks or the market by 4th and Broadway were the destination. nothing was predictable, you would set off on adventures with every destination. through the 90's and early 2000's we were reckless, the arrival of fresh money was disturbing and you felt like a marketplace at every turn. as a family we were pushed around and challenged in every way. all the friends we had were "orphans" in need of community and love. feelings were honest. but possessions and creativity became commodified beyond true value. we lost friends, we lost loved ones, we lost family, homes, shelters, income, businesses... we were part of the buoyancy zombies were seeking. we almost got sucked dry.
it was a trend i guess. the whole survival game. it was appealing and exciting to those who'd had a sheltered upbringing. we see this over and over in all countries of the world, where people hide and choke their heritage, to be accepted, and then a generation or two later, the healing pushes it's way into rebellion, into thirst for life. and having miss out on a formation that would allow for such creativity, you go and shop for it. you touch and sniff the merchandise, so many do the same, that it gets spoiled and discarded. like the Lower East Side, like "Nolita" like Hell's Kitchen and Williamsburg. like the Black Hills and our sacred waterways upstate. that people want to FRACK!! we need to calm down, we need to love each other, we need to aknowledge that we are one, that we have differences and that we need to know what they are, and to accept we are different. only through love will we all be able to shine who we truly are gifted to be, and come to peace with each other.
commentDHB: Taylor Swift's ambassadorship was perfectly timed with the release of her album 1989. She and her handlers are less concerned about NY and more concerned about her record sales. She after all is kicking Spotify's ass. There were so many other deserving NY celebrities that could have and should have been the face of NYC...
Everything is bought and sold these days. Money is the only culture left. It has permeated every cell, multiplying like cancer. This is the age of Kim Kardashin plastic, dumb, meritless but a great marketer of this new celebrity culture obsession. So astute people bought her book of Selfies.
Authenticity has vanished. NYC, the last hold-out has caved. It has finally and officially joined the mind numbing dumbing down of America movement.
Maybe Taylor Swift does make sense in this homogenized and moneyed NY?
commentsteve dalachinsky: too bad taylor mead was not made ambassador - as a born new yorker - i've experienced devastating changes culturally architecturally monetarily throughout - this rant will be a bit hasty and possibly incoherent but the stones are stamping shadows on the days : when we are confronted with increased racism, large schisms, brutality and miscarriages of justice, betrayed confidences, scenesterism, gangsterism etc, global catastrophe, gentrification, price gouging, murder, ny meltdowns the cost of everything skyrocketing, beautiful trees cut down to serve pretensions of consumerism, we few outside survivors and our work becoming nearly extinct, in-fighting and on and on why should we worry/argue about this swift (useless that she is) dilemma ? - simple - these over paid mediocre artists - pop or otherwise careerists starved fame seekers have become too prevalent in the eyes of america and to have one represent one of the cultural (tho i must add consumerist) capitals of the world is both a crime and as natural or unnatural as breathing in this corrupt society - i only wish that there were a way to wake the populous up but as our dear pedro pietri put it the asses are masses and they are allowing themselves to be duped once again - thankfully there are still those among us who know right from wrong good from bad sense from nonsense - in the end it is all fool's gold and we must not be fooled by these treacherous tyrants who try to control and manipulate our very ideals and freedoms - the media has become a dangerous weapon and is continually used to brainwash and/or incite - though many who live in ny have come from elsewhere to make their mark it is completely out of line to have million dollar air heads manufactured by big business representing us - woww ok over and out
commentnicolas heller: Clayton Patterson should be our ambassador. Very few people seem to care about this topic as much as him. Something needs to be done before we lose everything that makes the LES unique. Thank you Mr. Patterson.
commentanne: my name is Anne Apparu-Hall, i have lived and grown in NYC since a little girl off the Bowery. everything has changed so much. there were buildings lined up throughout midtown for $.99 in the late 80's. the city was dark at night, and the streets empty. to shop for gifts 8th street and st Marks or the market by 4th and Broadway were the destination. nothing was predictable, you would set off on adventures with every destination. through the 90's and early 2000's we were reckless, the arrival of fresh money was disturbing and you felt like a marketplace at every turn. as a family we were pushed around and challenged in every way. all the friends we had were "orphans" in need of community and love. feelings were honest. but possessions and creativity became commodified beyond true value. we lost friends, we lost loved ones, we lost family, homes, shelters, income, businesses... we were part of the buoyancy zombies were seeking. we almost got sucked dry.
commentLouis James: Underground, grassroots art is alive and well in NYC, it just isn't on Bowery or Saint Marks anymore. It's in places like Bushwick, LIC, even Jersey City. You want NYC culture? It thrives in The Bronx and Queens. Yes, a few 'hoods in Manhattan have gentrified, but art is nowhere near dead in NYC. Also, when people say "art and culture are dead in NYC" they almost always mean white and/or punk art and culture as if that's the only type of culture in existence. Latin culture doesn't count? How about Jewish? Or Russian? African? All of those are doing well. Asian too. Those who say art is dead in NYC have blinders on and are only looking in one place. Also, it's not like Joey Ramone was the "welcome abassador" in NYC in '78.
commentMordread 1p: It used to be that NYC was a place to take risks. If you wanted a career in the arts NYC was the place to be and the reason for that is because sooner or later, once you paid your dues (the time it took to make connections) your art form was given a chance and the right people would see it. If they liked it, you did it kid. if not, back to waiting tables ORRRRRR....
You went at it still. Got better, or went your own way and build your own fan base. Artists, singers, writers, dancers .... NYC was a Mecca.
Now.... now they dont want anything new. In order to do anything in NYC you need to have a name made for yourself already.
Want to know why all the small businesses are failing? Aside from rising rent prices, the people who were their clients, the starving artists and writers and dancers, are no longer a part of the NYC population.
commentKaren Kohlhaas: Taylor Mac instead of Taylor Swift!

see also activities: Welcome to New York
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