In the early 1920s and '30s, a Manhattan neighborhood gave birth to a movement in African-American social thought expressed through literature, music, theater, dance and art. The movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, centered in the upper regions of the city, had a profound effect around the world.
Today, many point to a new Harlem Renaissance, thanks to a resurgence in galleries, artists, designers, musicians, writers and filmmakers from diverse economic and ethnic backgrounds who are returning to live and work in the area.
"I feel like I'm at the forefront of a movement that's happening rapidly," said Mick Murphy, artist, entrepreneur and a Harlem resident since moving from another cultural endave, SoHo, in 1995. "I'm seeing a lot more downtown faces up here lately."
What's bringing them to the still-edgy neighborhood that lies north of Central Park are the comparatively low rents in apartments that Murphy describes as "large enough to create and live in the same space." However, as Harlem's hipness takes off, so will the rents. According to the New York Times, a two-bedroom apartment in East Harlem that rented for $600 per month a few years ago commands approximately $2,200 today. Townhouses quickly sell for up to $600,000. Brownstones: $800,000.
The cultural groups that pepper the area are iconographic: the Apollo Theater, the Boys Choir of Harlem, the Dance Theater of Harlem, the Harlem School of the Arts. Others are gaining notoriety after much perseverance. In 1968, The Studio Museum in Harlem was founded with a mission to exhibit, collect, research and interpret the work of African-American artists and artists of African descent locally, nationally and internationally. It also presents work that reflects the experiences of people of African descent. From its humble beginnings in a rented loft on 125th Street, it moved in 1982 to a nearby building donated by the New York Bank for Savings. With some 60,000 square feet of space, its permanent collection has grown to include more than 1,600 paintings, sculptures, photographs and installation pieces, including works by Jacob Lawrence, Hector Hyppolite and James VanDerZee.
The museum also sponsors an artist-in-residence program that has launched the careers of successful artists in the genre it supports, including David Hammons, Alison Saar and Leonardo Drew.
Reflecting the diversity of the neighborhood, other museums focus on Latino art. In 1969, a group of Puerto Rican residents, artists and activists founded El Museo del Barrio. At first, it operated out of a public school classroom; later, it moved to a series of storefronts. In 1977, el Museo finally settled in the Hechscher Building on Fifth Ave. and 104th Street. Some 8,000 objects comprise the museum's permanent collection of Caribbean and Latin American art, ranging from pre-Columbian Taino artifacts to 20th-century paintings, photography, sculptures and installations to documentary films and video. Last spring, the museum welcomed a timely traveling exhibit titled, "Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Twentieth Century Mexican Art."
Another decidedly Harlem art museum also embraces diversity by exploring the history of the city and the people who live there. The Museum of the City of New York was founded in 1923 and strives to help visitors understand "the individual and shared heritages that have traditionally characterized New York City and the sense of time, place and self that is essential for the well-being of all communities," according to museum literature. …