Yesterday’s pick for this year’s best Brooklyn venue went to Barbes. The well-loved Brooklyn hotspot is the first stop on a pipeline that continues through the lowlit, romantic, adventurous Drom on the Lower East Side and winds up at Lincoln Center. Today’s pick for this year’s best Manhattan venue, the Lincoln Center Atrium, reflects that logically triumphant conclusion.
For anyone who might think it unimaginative to the extreme to choose one of the spaces at Manhattan’s world-famous cultural mecca, think again. What the three women who program the weekly events here are doing is extremely sophisticated – and wildly successful. Their outreach is global; their commitment to pushing the envelope – in artistic terms anyway – is genuinely radical. Given an opportunity to be a transformative force in a city that desperately needs it, they are schooling every other center of culture in this country.
We all know the depressing stats: the AVERAGE age of crowds at the big Manhattan classical concert halls is 65. And that’s counting the many gaggles of kids you see there. Clearly, these institutions need to look elsewhere for a customer base that will sustain them in the future.
Lincoln Center’s a step ahead of the game. By reaching out to communities who are underserved by the other Manhattan institutions, the programming at the atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd Street is building a new foundation that mirrors the future of this city as a whole. This is the cool Lincoln Center space. Not that classical music, and Jazz at Lincoln Center, are uncool. The atrium is just cooler.
How do you bring the crowds out? With panel discussions on social justice issues, a monthly dance party or two or three, and music that often can’t be seen anywhere else in town…or in this country. This past year’s lineup spanned from noir mariachi rock, to techno big band jazz, Cameroonian downtempo psychedelia, Harlem symphonic funk, an improvisational Middle Eastern jazz orchestra playing Indian ragas, and one of the world’s most spectacular female electric guitarists. The first-ever US tour by the stars of Morocco’s wildly popular annual summer festival of gnawa trance-dance music kicked off here last spring. And that’s typical of what you get here. It doesn’t hurt that all of these events are free.
The success of the atrium shatters the myth that Manhattan isn’t a destination for young people anymore. You know the drill: Manhattan is too expensive, too stodgy, too tourist-ridden, and it’s impossible to get home at night because the trains are such a mess. But week after week, crowds pack the space. It’s like Barbes, but bigger, and without the stress of the F train.
What’s happening here isn’t just fun – it’s historic. They’re building a scene, a mix of neighborhood oldtimers and kids from every borough of the city. Someday there will be documentaries about it. It’s yours if you want it – clearly, the kids do.