WHAT: “Activist New York”
WHERE: Puffin Foundation Gallery, Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue, New York
WHY THIS SHOW MATTERS: New York City has been an epicenter for cultural movements and change in America for centuries, from religious tolerance in the Dutch New Netherlands to debates about a Muslim Cultural Center near the World Trade Center site. The Museum of the City of New York is honoring that long history with an ongoing interactive exhibition focused on the activist efforts of the city’s people in “Activist New York.” The show is divided into 14 chronological installations covering activist efforts in the Big Apple from the mid-17th-century to today.
Highlights include exhibits such as “What Has New York to Do with Slavery?” focusing on the Draft Riots of 1863, which charts the opposing views of abolitionists and supporters of Southern slave owners, which erupted into violence and forced issues of class and race into the city streets. “Art for the Masses: An Activist Theater” describes political theater groups that performed timely material about the Depression and labor exploitation in America, as well as skits expressing growing concern about Fascism and Nazism in Europe in the ’30s. “‘Gay Is Good’: Civil Rights for Gays and Lesbians” revisits the Stonewall Riots of the Greenwich Village, the formation of radical organizations like ACT UP, and the recent triumph of same-sex marriage in New York State.
Historic artifacts play an integral role in the show, with pieces on loan (like the “Flushing Remonstrance” which protested the banishment of Quakers from New Netherland in 1657) and interactive displays that allow visitors to express themselves on the controversial issues that spurred activist movements in their own times. From painted banners to candid photographs, this exhibition celebrates an ongoing and ever-changing part of the city.
To see photographs and artifacts from the exhibition click the slideshow.