Know Your City #5: Columbus Circle

Cultural Diversity In Columbus Circle


¨Christopher Columbus is rather passé these days, a symbol of Eurocentric imperialist attitudes and the patronizing belief that people and their cultures can be ¨discovered¨. So it may seem a bit old-fashioned that one of New York´s most prominent intersections plays tribute to Columbus the explorer.


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Now get this: In the late nineteenth century, Christopher Columbus actually represented cultural diversity! By the 1880s, thousands of Italians were arriving in New York weekly, and this number would hold steady well into the 1910s. They looked upon this statue with pride (and many Italian Americans still do today). In fact, the Columbus statue by Gaetano Russo was funded entirely by Italian Americans - or, at least, by readers of the Italian American newspaper Il Progresso.¨

Greg Young and Tom Meyers. The Bowery Boys: Adventures in Old New York. Ulysses Press, 2016


Like it or not, every New Yorker - and even tourists visiting The Plaza, Jazz at Lincoln Center and Central Park - knows the area around Columbus Circle. But what are you missing? It’s time to take a walk around the neighborhood, so tighten your laces because here are some other locations in the neighborhood to discover.


Have you always felt like painting but didn't know how to start? Visit the Art Students League of New York at 215 W 57th Street and give it a try. Founded in 1875, many renowned artists like Jackson Pollock and Georgia O’Keeffe have trained and taught at the League. The ASL is well known for being very hospitable towards international students and offers flexible and affordable programs (and even some critique and theory classes). On Saturday. August 11th, they have a Darw-A-Thon event, featuring live models, competitions, giveaways and more!


    Just across the street, you’ll find Open Society Foundations. They work to build ¨tolerant societies whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people,¨ seeking respect for human rights, minorities, and a diversity of opinions. They generate dialogue around social issues, and they offer grants, scholarships and fellowships for organizations and individuals.


Shall we dance? Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is just a few minutes away at 405 W 55th Street. Recognized as a “Cultural Ambassador to the World,” the quality of their shows is remarkable not only for the perfectionism of their choreographers and dancers, but also in their mission of spreading the word about African-American cultural expression. The Theater also runs Ailey II, an extension of the company that stands out with a diverse community outreach program, and the school, The Joan Weill Center for Dance. The company is on tour during this fall and will be back to New York in November!


¨I am trying to show the world that we are all human beings and that color is not important. What is important is the quality of our work.¨ Alvin Ailey.


    Now that your creative juices are flowing, walk two minutes up the block and come say hello at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on W 59th Street. Ethical leadership and social justice are at the core of the John Jay experience, and it’s the place in the neighbood to be if you’re interested in criminal justice, liberal arts, experiential learning, and making a difference.  


    Last but not least before heading back to Columbus Circle, Manhattan Neighborhood Network is just across the street. Feeling engaged with your community?  If you want to videotape, shoot with your tablet, or make television with high-level cameras the way professional producers do, learn more about MNN´s Media Education Center, which provides classes that cost less than a weekly MTA pass.


Find our previous sessions of Know Your City and stay tuned!

West Harlem

Greenwich Village & Chelsea

Upper East Side & East Harlem



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