The Spring For Music festival in New York is holding an arts blogger challenge that involves answering various questions on a weekly basis for a month. Though I am not much for competition or contests, this seems fairly harmless and the possibilities for the earnest and absurd are promising. The first question posed, apparently due today, is "New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America. Is it still? If not, where?" My initial reaction to this query is simply that it seems somewhat broad and also rather loaded.
New York City has a population upwards of eight million inhabitants, the most populous in North America. It has more than twice the number of people than the next largest metropolis, Los Angeles. It would be very odd indeed if New York were not the center of arts and culture, given this alone. With so many people packed into 321 square miles, even the sheer number of people whose deictic center is New York is impressive.
Even if one were to argue that New York is not the cultural capital of the United States, it seems difficult to back up the claim of another single place. Let us just take opera companies as an example. The Metropolitan Opera held 289 performances in 2009 and had total operating expenses of $266,400,000. In contrast, San Francisco Opera (which has made claims to being the second biggest opera company in North America) held about 89 performances and had an annual operating budget of $67,806,615 in Fiscal Year 2009.
It is interesting to note, however, that the Met's 2008-2009 report highlights the debuts of three famous directors, namely Robert Lepage, David McVicar, and Penny Woolcock. Perhaps it doesn't signify much, but both Lepage and McVicar had productions (The Rake's Progress and Don Giovanni, respectively) at San Francisco Opera before 2008. McVicar's Il Trovatore (pictured above in a cupcake rendering) debuted at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2006, was performed at the Met in 2008, and came to San Francisco in 2009. It is also funny that the Woolcock production was of Doctor Atomic, the opera itself having premiered in San Francisco.
Another strange fact about the cultural power of New York is that it seems not to have imposed its dialect on the rest of the country. Standard American English is based on accents of the Midwest (that is, away from New York), while British Received Pronunciation is comes from the south of England and Standard French is more or less Parisian.
To be clear, these are just asides. New York City is home to unrivaled arts and cultural organizations, drawing in tons of people from everywhere as tourists or residents. It is rather bizarre to take the time to muse on something so self-evident, but I suppose a little navel-gazing never hurt anyone.