Sunday, February 13, 2005

A Friendlier New York Is No Surprise To This Native

How can you be in PR -- based in New York, no less -- without commenting on "The Gates" in Central Park? I want to tell you what I think, considering I’ve been in public relations for almost 30 years representing anyone and anything from painters, authors and start ups to large corporations that rank in the top 10 in the world. I am also a New Yorker who grew up in Queens for my first 26 years, and have been right here in Manhattan for longer than that.

Anything that gets New Yorkers to smile at each other and talk about the abstract is a good thing – not to mention something that brings in the bridge and tunnel crowd on a weekend when they could be snuggled at home in front of the boob tube while their fireplace crackles away. I love it when you walk down the street and people smile at you, wave if you’re walking the same kind of dog, or go out of their way to hold the door for you. It just makes me feel so good.

Friendly gestures are really what New York is all about. It never amazes me when people visiting from other cities tell me how friendly New Yawkers are. I get a personal thrill when I see people from all walks of life -- tall, short, fat, thin, old and young -- helping each other out on the simple things in life. It was much more evident right after 9/11 when everyone in and around New York united against the enemy, the terrorists. Every cabbie, doorman, truck driver and traffic cop set the tone by wishing you well, bidding you good day, and giving you an acknowledging nod of “we are one” that made this place so special. Now, a few years later, we still have some of that, but people get caught up in their own preoccupations that make cheeriness something difficult to sustain on a regular basis.

Yesterday, I felt some of that underlining unification as thousands upon thousands of people came out to see “The Gates,” which are comprised of 7,500, 16-foot tall gates that hold panels of orange-colored pleated nylon swaying along the 23 miles of walkway in Central Park. The streets surrounding the park, as well as the walkways themselves, were jam-packed with diverse groups of people sharing comments on the artwork, their journey into New York, where they were going to eat, what they were going to buy the kids, and what else of value was to see near or around the area. People who never would have talked to each other found a common ground for discussion.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude call "The Gates" as much a public happening as it is a vast environmental sculpture and a feat of engineering. It has required more than 1 million square feet of vinyl and 5,300 tons of steel throughout the park at a cost of $20 million that they financed themselves. The artists love the fact that the crowds are talking about the art and talking to each other.

New York is all about getting things you can’t get anyplace else. I like the idea that we should be the city of smiles and congeniality. It is good PR for the city and it makes us feel good too.

Read what the NY Post has to say.

5 comments:

AceInCali said...

Lois,

I agree...anytime Art can inspire people, it is a wonderful thing! I have been reading and watching this project for quite some time and am so pleased to read that people are responding so favorably to it. My daughter lives in Manhattan and spent time visiting the Gates yesterday. She planned to go again today and take pictures. I am sure she was like many others, smiling, chatting with strangers and generally enjoying the exhibit! Keep up the good work! Adrian in the OC.

Victoria Lang said...

Terrific insight Lois. The comparison to post 9/11 is right on. Let's hope that the feelings this art has infused in NYC linger long after it is gone.
Victoria

Lock said...

Lois, great to see you blogging. I'll be reading!

D said...

Lois,

Thank you for putting into words the spirit of true New Yorkers that I have been trying to convey to some here on the "left coast" who have had some bad experiences with a few worms from our Big Apple.

Your thoughts on post Sept. 11 attitudes were especially poignant to me, as it is exactly that response from the people of NY that has redoubled the pride I have in our hometown.

In the days after the attack, when the bridges were closed and we seemed to be cut off from the world, it was the regular people – the college students, the homeless, the concerned moms (including my own!), the displaced office workers - all stepping up to the plate to help each other, long before the organized efforts of the Red Cross could be mobilized. Different people worked together every day at the Javits Center – receiving and organizing the supplies that supported the rescue workers. It was amazing to watch people walk in off the street, ask how they can help and just start pitching in.

Perhaps those who are not from New York will never understand, and perhaps the old stereotype of the rushed, rude New Yorker who would walk over you as soon as give you the time of day (yes, some people actually think this! Oy!) will never completely fade, but at least WE know the truth.

Warmest wishes,

-D.
(still kicking around the SF Bay Area)

Whitney said...

But what were Christo and Jeanne-Claude's real motives? Did they intend to create a spectacle so big that it would draw out slumbering New Yorkers on a winter weekend, or did they simply want the recognition of having created New York's largest public art project ever? I don't believe for a moment that you need to spend $20 million to bring us together. Garth Brooks' free concert drew 250,000 people from all over the country. The free opera performances on the Great Lawn regularly draw upwards of 50,000 people. 250,000 people gathered to protest the RNC, and that was free.

So while I enjoyed walking through the park on Saturday, and I recognize the need for togetherness, I don't believe it has to come with a $20 million price tag.