Art and Architecture postcards at the 2018 Summer Streets cultureNOW kiosk

We are confronted today with many seemingly insolvable problems all at once: climate change, the effluent of our disposable consumer culture, social isolation, pandemics, racism. As a strategy to facing the future, the first step is to look at our neighborhoods in a different way. Everyday we filter out a tremendous amount of information about our environment just so that we can ‘get where we’re going’.

Children, on the other hand, are fascinated with everything around them which is probably why it takes them a very long time to get anywhere. But, of course, their legs are shorter. As we remove the filters, we will rediscover the richness and diversity of our cities and culture. By asking how did our city get to look and feel the way that it does? What were the motivations for the developers and builders, the architects and the artists? What are the stories that illustrate our collective history? What is hidden beneath our sidewalks or erased by time? What are the plans and dreams that have yet to happen?

cultureNOW invites you to explore our cities through our maps, tours, pictures, drawings, and podcasts. We step beyond museum walls to celebrate our vast cultural environment. It will inspire you to imagine the future.

Mapping the Cityscape Exhibit at the Center for Architecture, New York City in July, 2011

For the past nineteen years we have been on a journey acting as archeologists and planners, technologists and visionaries, librarians and poets to develop a holistic understanding of place. It is a trip that began on September 12th, 2001 with one printed map that tried to dissect a single shattered neighborhood to give it a structure to redefine itself and reboot. From that we began looking at other communities through the vehicle of cultural mapping and have expanded both geographically and technologically in a quest to demystify place. It has been a digital odyssey from Lower Manhattan to Google Earth which we have documented by produced printed maps, exhibitions, tours, programs and publications.

Cultural Mapping
cultureNOW interns - Miriam Roure Parera, Nick Zimmmerman, Zhanina Boyadzhieva at the Boston Society of Architects, Boston in 2013
Cultural Mapping

Physical Maps: The core of cultureNOW's programs are the Maps that we create. Each map is a snapshot of a community at a moment in time. And each begins with a research effort to ascertain the unique aspects for a community. It involves gathering information, physically visiting the community and meeting the people. It develops into a printed map. Multiple maps have been produced of New York City showcasing its communities of Lower Manhattan and Harlem, its art, its waterfront and its history as well as in Los Angeles and Boston.

Mapping Technology: cultureNOW began creating a digital library of images, podcasts and stories in 2009 which have formed the core collection of the Museum without Walls.

Exhibitions: cultureNOW has organized exhibitions in New York (Mapping the Cityscape 2011), Boston (BostonNOW Maps to Apps (2012-2017) and Los Angeles (2013). It also participated in many exhibitions. Maps have been exhibited at Columbia University, the Center for Architecture, Federal Hall National Memorial and the New York Historical Society. Maps are in the permanent collection of the Oklahoma National Historical Monument, the New York Historical Society, and the Library of Congress and the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

Kritika Dhanda , cultureNOW at the Summer Streets kiosk in 2017 distributing Art and Architecture maps and postcards

Cultural Tourism Partnerships:  CultureNOW partners with other cultural organizations in events such as Archtober, open house New York, and Summer Streets with the NY City Department of Transportation. For the National Park Service, cultureNOW has provided over 650,000 free maps which were given out at every site in New York City. It also partners with community initiatives such as the City of Inglewood’s Public Art Education Project.

Tours: cultureNOW has many tourism initiatives. It has developed its own walking tours of culturally interesting parts of New York City such as its midtown tour for the Municipal Art Society’s Janes Walk, its lower Manhattan tours for open House New York. Beginning in 2010 it conceived of the Architectural Boat Tour of Manhattan in partnership with the NY Chapter of the AIA and Classic Harbor Lines which has been continuously running since then.

Cultural Connections: cultureNOW has been exploring multiple cultural connections. An early project, Artists in Place was for people who view art to meet people who make it. Originally held as part of Open House New York in 2008, it led to cultureNOW recording hundreds of podcasts of artists, architects, and other stakeholders sharing their visions about their work and the city they live in. This is a collection that has grown to over 2000 audio recordings.

Websites: Since 2002 cultureNOW has collaborated with lowermanhattanmap.com and lowermanhattan.info to provide interactive websites.

Cocktails and Conversations with Michael Murphy , MASS Design Group Michael Sorkin, Michael Sorkin Studio at the Center for Architecture, New York City on November 18, 2016

In the Classroom: Several of the maps were begun as semester long class research projects. Harlem which was begun as a planning class project at Pratt Institute. Inglewood Public Arts Education was a similar exercise with students at Otis College of Art and Design.

Maps as Tools: All of the maps have been used as teaching tools both in schools ranging from New York City Elementary schools to many private schools and universities.

cultureNOW interns Amanda Miller, Yoonjee Koh with the original Ratzer map at the Harvard University Library in 2016

Internships: CultureNOW has maintained a project based internship program for students since 2002.

Design Charrettes:   CultureNOW views culture as the glue which defines communities. cultureNOW grew out of the New York New Visions pro bono initiative to replan New York City post 9/11. The maps have been used widely and were distributed at all the formal and grass-roots planning focus groups such asImagine New York. cultureNOW participates in many design charrettes such as Listening to the City and most recently for AmeriCorps in Harlem.

Lectures & Symposia:  There have been multiple lectures and symposia. It organized one of the first simultaneous programs ever hosted concurrently in 2013 with a group of interns in three cities: New York, Los Angeles and Boston called Coast to Coast to Coast which featured live presentations. 700 people attended in total.

cultureNOW also created the Cocktails and Conversations Series of Friday night dialogues on Architectural Design at the Center for Architecture in 2012 which has been running monthly since then. That led to a book of the first 40 conversations published in 2018.

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