New York's way to fight vulgar culture

Updated: 2010-08-17 07:15

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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New York, the most expensive American city, is much cheaper compared with Shanghai and other Chinese cities, at least when it comes to summer arts, since many big-ticket events in China are totally free there.

If you are an early bird, you may want to attend all the wonderful concerts at the Rockefeller Center starting 7 am every Friday. Stars this summer include Lady Gaga, John Mayer and Christina Aquilera. Keith Urban will play this Friday.

Yes, these are all free as part of the Today Show concert series. And they are on a long list of fascinating free events happening in the Big Apple every day.

On Sunday afternoon, the hip-hop band, Public Enemy, played in Central Park for free, as part of the NYC Revolutions Series.

On the same day, the Harlem Meer Performance Festival featured the five-piece Latin jazz group Sumbaswing in the park's Charles A Dana Discovery Center, against the backdrop of the lake and the Conservatory Garden.

If you are a jazz fan, you may want to go there every Sunday at 2pm for the rest of the summer, either sitting in the chairs or on the lawns at the back.

Concerts are not the only things free. The Shakespeare in the Park in Central Park this summer has staged The Winter's Tale, starring actors such as Al Pacino and Meryl Streep.

While Central Park may host the most free events, every park in New York has a busy schedule for the summer.

The Bryant Park near my office hosts free yoga and tai chi classes and book events almost every day. The weekly Broadway in the Park always draws huge crowds to the lawn under the noon sun. The Monday night movie screening has also been a hit, with people arriving before 5 pm for the 8:30 pm show of mostly old movies. This Monday it was the 1957 movie 12 Angry Men starring Henry Fonda.

If you love the beautiful sunset of Manhattan as I do, you could go to concerts staged along the Hudson River at dusk. Manhattan's sunset is a dreamlike stage setting.

For many people, going to free outdoor events is not just about watching a film or attending a concert, it is also a way to unwind from a day's hectic work, meet people or enjoy a meal and drinks. Compared to formal shows at the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, they are physically more relaxing.

I love formal events, but I also have been exploring the great free events this summer. I deeply regret missing the Toni Braxton free concert in the Wingate Park in Brooklyn on July 19, part of the Martin Luther King Jr Concert Series.

Reading of all these free cultural events, Shanghai and Beijing folks who are fighting for pop singer Faye Wong's 300-2,500 yuan ($44-368) concert tickets this fall may not believe it.

But in New York, free shows, and free shows by big stars, are common. The July 13 concert by Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and New York Philharmonic, featuring pianist Lang Lang, baritone Liao Changyong and soprano Huang Ying, was also free on Central Park's Great Lawn.

I am certainly not alone in taking advantage of the free shows. One friend at The New York Times said he has been doing this for years and has been introducing many of his friends to the free shows.

Neither is it just journalists flocking to such events. At the Lang Lang concert, I saw big names in the audience such as Hollywood star Eric Baldwin, former AIG chairman Maurice Greenberg and Wendi Murdoch, who sat right next to me.

Compared with New York, all the parks in Shanghai and other Chinese cities seem so lifeless and all the lawns look like deserts.

If Shanghai and Beijing host free concerts and shows to enrich people's cultural lives after work and on weekends, there will be no need to wage a war on the so-called vulgar art and culture.

The handful of expensive theaters, such as Shanghai Grand Theater and National Center for the Performing Arts, are simply incapable of handling the task.


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