November 30, 2012
Saul Lilienstein was just your average kid growing up in the Bronx. He rode the train to the dazzling Times Square and music classes in Manhattan and watched Joe DiMaggio from his rooftop overlooking Yankee Stadium. If this sounds like the same sort of nostalgic yarn Woody Allen spins in Annie Hall when his character Alvy tells the audience that he grew up underneath the rollercoaster at Coney Island, Lilienstein is here to tell you it’s all true.
“He might have been born in Brooklyn but you’d be surprised how close the character was of kids from either Brooklyn or the Bronx and their utter attachment both to their boroughs and to New York as the center of their world.”
While it may not be surprising today that New Yorkers don’t suffer any insecurities about their town, the city’s fate as a global capital seemed uncertain after the stock market crash of 1929. That’s where Saul Lilienstein, a music historian, plans to pick up when he presents “New York in the Thirties: From Hard-Times Town to the World of Tomorrow” with colleague George Scheper for Smithsonian Associates. His Saturday seminar will touch on everything from Broadway to Harlem, Mayor LaGuardia to city planner Robert Moses, and explore how the city rose from the crash.
“I’ll always be a New Yorker, there’s no question about it. That’s my neighborhood,” says Lilienstein. Born in 1932 in the Bronx, Lilienstein takes what has become a familiar story of a city’s triumph–demographics, government support, new art forms and platforms–and tells it from a unique point of view, reveling in the seemingly endless potential available to any kid with a nickel.
The familiar players will all be in attendance Saturday: the New Deal, Works Progress Administration, Tin Pan Alley, Radio City Music Hall, the Cotton Club. But Lilienstein weaves personal memories into the narrative to bring New York in the 30s and 40s to life.
Like when he won an award in 1943 for selling more war bonds than any other Boy Scout in the Bronx. “I was chosen to lay the wreath at the opening of the Lou Gehrig memorial outside of Yankee Stadium,” remembers Lilienstein. “And the New York Daily News had a picture of me and it said, boy scout Saul Lilienstein lays the wreath at the Lou Gehrig memorial and then it mentioned the people standing around me: Mrs. Babe Ruth, Mrs. Lou Gehrig.” For a boy whose life revolved around riding the subway to any and every baseball game he could, the memory stands out as a favorite. “And then we all went out to lunch together to the Concourse Plaza Hotel.”
Now an opera expert, Lilienstein has a musical background that stretches back to his high school days. “I went to a high school that had six full symphony orchestras in it. I’m not exaggerating,” he says. Manhattan’s High School of Music & Art is a public school, but was the project of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who founded the school in 1936 as part of a trend of government support for artists and the arts. Factors like these seem almost impossible to imagine today, says Lilienstein, when rhetoric often villainizes anyone who benefits from the government. “But, it was a marvelous thing that generated theater and music in the city.”
He remembers taking the subway to music lessons in Manhattan where he trained with the first trombone from the New York Philharmonic, for free. Density created audiences large enough to support world renowned cultural institutions. A public transportation system open to anyone helped democratize access to those institutions. And Lilienstein’s story is just one of many from a city built to embrace the arts.
Times Square, for example, served as a sort of theater lobby for the entire city, according to Lilienstein. “It’s this place where a huge, milling crowd of people are getting something to eat and talking about what they’ve seen,” he says. “It’s not just a place where people are passing through.”
Lilienstein even goes so far as to defend the billboard funhouse that is Times Square today, saying, “Well it’s not quite the same. There are some differences: you can sit down in the middle of it now. I’m not one of those people who thinks everything gets worse, a lot of things get better.” But, Lilienstein pauses for a bit before adding, “Nothing gets better than New York in the 30s and the early 40s!”
“New York in the Thirties: From Hard Times Town to the World of Tomorrow” takes place December 1, 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. at the Ripley Center. Purchase tickets here.
November 13, 2012
Tuesday, November 13: ARTLAB+Artist Studio
These daily mentor-led workshops help introduce teens to a variety of media, including sculpture, video and music with weekly formal critiques on Friday. Specifically for individuals between the ages of 13 and 19, the series helps partner passionate students with the teachers and tools they need to begin creating. The schedule is: Monday: invention, construction, and sculptural installation, Tuesday: video production and animation skills, Wednesday: graphic design and photography production, Thursday: music, broadcasting, and sound production and Friday: formal critique of work produced that week. Free but registration required. Daily through Dec. 21 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden.
Wednesday, November 14: Inside the State Department’s Diplomatic Reception Rooms
The Secretary of State, Vice President, and members of the Cabinet all rely on the diplomatic reception rooms to communicate whatever message they intend to send to visiting dignitaries. The carpets, the drapes, the coffee tables all have to be coordinated. As Mr. Lebowski knows, the importance a good rug cannot be underestimated. What else will tie the room together? With history, elegance and a heaping of home furnishings, Smithsonian Associates invites visitors to hear about the collections and take a virtual tour with director Marcee F. Craighill. You’ll also be able to signup for a daytime tour offered on a variety of dates. Tickets, $35 members, $45 non-members. American Indian Museum, Rasmuson Theater.
Thursday, November 15: Nixon and the American Indian: The Movement to Self-Determination
Speaking of diplomacy, the Archivist of the United States David Ferriero will discuss President Nixon’s decision to change course on Native American Policy. After delivering his opening remarks, a panel, cosponsored by the Richard Nixon Foundation and the National Archives, will explore the issues at stake and the consequences of the decision. By strengthening the government’s fiduciary commitment to the tribes, the policy was meant to strengthen Native cultures. Officials key to the process will be at the American Indian Museum to discuss the “ leadership, legislation, and litigation” of the policy. Free. 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. American Indian Museum.
October 11, 2012
Friday, October 12: Design Craft: DreamHome
For everyone who loves art, design and endlessly watching HGTV: Design Craft at the Renwick brings together the Washington Design Center and the Gallery’s “40 Under 40″ exhibition of craft artists. Eight designers took specific pieces from the show to help inspire individual rooms in this year’s DreamHome. Two of the designers will be paired with the artist who inspired them in this discussion of inspiration and design. More than just an illuminating look at how the two fields often intersect, the insight into the creative process will allow the audience to watch how one object can create an entire room. So turn off the House Hunters for one night and head to the Renwick for a real-life dissection of a DreamHome. Free. 12 p.m. Renwick Gallery.
Saturday, October 13: All That Glitters: The Allure of Classic Jewelry
Emeralds, rubies and diamonds: in short, something for everyone. Royalty and commoners alike will enjoy this all-day discussion of the ways in which our preference for precious stones have changed over time. From the Victorian Age to the Art Nouveau era up into the Modern glamour of Art Deco and beyond. Stefanie Walker, a lecturer for the Smithsonian-Mason MA Program in the History of Decorative Arts, will lead the audience through a dazzling history. Wear your best gems and jewels and prepare for an educational day of eye candy. Tickets $85-$120. Ripley Center.
Sunday, October 14: Printmaking workshop with artist Jorge Porrata
Cuban poet and artist Jorge Luis Porrata has illustrated six books for the Miami-based publisher Homago. Sunday he joins the American Indian Museum to help the whole family craft a work of art. Though his work, both as an illustrator and widely published poet, emphasizes the interconnected nature of man across cultural traditions, Sunday’s workshop will focus on the Taino people. The Taino are native to the Caribbean islands including the Bahamas, and words from their language permeate the Spanish spoken in Cuba, as well as Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Educational and arty, the workshop is open to all ages. Free. 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Repeats at 2 p.m. American Indian Museum.
October 4, 2012
Friday, October 5 Mrs. Judo
At 99 years old, judo master Keiko Fukuda still keeps a busy schedule, teaching three times a week at her San Francisco dojo. Fukuda holds the highest ranking possible in judo and is the last living student of the sport’s founder, Kanō Jigorō. The new documentary Mrs. Judo: Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful tells Fukuda’s unique story. The film explores the roots of judo while also chronicling the life of this living legend. The screening is preceded by Two Seconds after Laughter. Free. 7 p.m. Freer Gallery.
No one ever told Peter Cheimets not to stare at the sun. Or if someone did, he definitely didn’t listen. The senior project engineer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory spends his days working at the cutting edge of solar observation. This year, after 30 years of development, special telescopes capable of observing the sun were finally perfected. Ushering in a new era of observation, Cheimets will discuss what made this moment possible and some of the early results from his research. Free, but tickets are required. Tickets available 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the IMAX Theater Box Offices. 5:15 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. Air and Space Museum. For more information, call 202-633-2398 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, October 7 Masterworks of Three Centuries 2012-2013 Concert Series
The Smithsonian Associates celebrates the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society’s 36th season. Though the event promises to be an eclectic mix of classics and lesser-known works, don’t be intimidated. The Chamber Music Society’s artistic director, Kenneth Slowik, will give a pre-concert talk that digs into the music on tap and explores the biographies behind the featured composers, including Beethoven, Faure and Chausson. It’s the perfect start to a new season. $28 general admission, $22 members. Purchase tickets here. 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. American History Museum, Hall of Musical Instruments.
September 17, 2012
Tuesday, September 18 Poetry and performance
Local poet, Princess Bethea, will be performing work from her latest collection, free love, available online, at the Anacostia Community Museum. This is the first book from the young and promising DC spoken-word artist. Describing her sources of inspiration, Princess Bethea says, “I separated the poems into seasons because the seasons in nature are the perfect proof of the stages of Life: Growth and Death. Blooming and Falling.” Mark the arrival of fall with an evening of poetry. The artist will also discuss and answer questions about her creative process. Free. 7 p.m. Anacostia Community Museum.
Wednesday, September 19 Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecturer
If Norman Rockwell’s Americana had a haunting shadow-life, it would live in the world of Edward Hopper. The early 20th century-American artist behind scenes like Nighthawks and Automat, continues to receive critical attention including a 2011 exhibit at Bowdoin College. Edward Hopper’s Maine is organized by scholar Kevin Salatino, who will be discussing the organization of the show and insights on the artist. Currently the director of the Art Collections at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, Salatino will present his lecture, Edward Hopper and the Burden of (Un)Certainty , followed by a reception. Free, tickets will be distributed starting at 6:30 p.m. Lecture at 7 p.m. American Art Museum, McEvoy Auditorium.
Thursday, September 20 History of Blair House
This elegant retreat for dignitaries and diplomats was built in 1824 for the first surgeon general of the U.S. Army. The house’s prestige has only grown over the years, serving once as a temporary White House for then-President Truman, and often accommodates new heads of state on the eve of their inauguration. Beautiful and brainy, this house tour offers historical architecture and furnishings as well as a behind-the-scenes tales of many important political engagements. The Blair House curator, Candace Shireman, leads the tour of the home on Lafayette Square. $40 general admission, $30 member, $27 senior member. 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. Smithsonian Associates.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. And download our new Visitors Guide & Tours App for both iPhone and Android. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.