Five Pointz artists studios offer legal graffiti space in Long
Island City, Queens, 2008.
Cities have historically played vital roles in the arts. As centers of commerce and trade, cities bring together diverse groups of people, as well as a critical mass of galleries, concert halls, theaters, clubs, and museums. Whether it is Broadway, Hollywood, the Boston Symphony, the New York City Ballet or the Chicago Art Institute, cities are magnets for culture.




Musician, Marcien “Gifrants” Toussaist, performs at the
Harvard Square subway station, Cambridge, Mass., 2003
The entertainment industry and “high culture” are not the only launch pads of urban arts. Street art, subway musicians and street performers are also part of the city’s cultural landscape. Most of these artists will never become famous, but their participation in the arts is part of the energy and life of the city. Artists, performers, and musicians are born in many places all over the world, but they come to cities to interact with other artists as well as to try to make a name for themselves.


Mural by Kindred McLeary, 1937–1939, at the 23rd Street
Post Office, New York City.
Public spaces in cities have served as venues for the arts. During the New Deal, the Works Progress Administration combated unemployment by hiring artists to produce art in government buildings like schools, hospitals and libraries. Other government art
programs produced art in U.S. Post Offices, including Kindred McLeary’s “Scenes from a City,” left. Graffiti, which in the 1970s and 1980s covered New York City’s subway cars and stations, is a more controversial form of public art – viewed by some as vandalism, by others as art. The “5 Pointz,” above, is a converted warehouse filled with artist studios in Long Island City, Queens, whose owner allows it to be used as a legal space for graffiti artists.


A street sculptor works on his art on West 45th Street in New
York, 2006.