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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Art of Parties: Downtown New York Cultural Scenes, 1978–1983

  • Author(s): Galvin, Kristen Janette
  • Advisor(s): Hilderbrand, Lucas
  • et al.
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At the decadal turn of 1980s, Downtown New York was paradoxically characterized by crisis alongside unprecedented social and cultural freedom. These circumstances yielded a cultural explosion of unbridled creativity and experimentation across the arts commonly known as the “Downtown scene.” My dissertation adopts the interdisciplinary perspective of visual cultural studies to examine the creative economy that shaped this prolific time and place.

This project maps Downtown’s cultural explosion through an examination of what I call the “art-party”—interdisciplinary and socially engaged practices that structured the city’s thriving creative economy. In contrast to existing scholarship on Downtown, which tends to focus on one artist or medium, my dissertation adopts the art-party as a framework to interpret Downtown’s vibrant sites of collective experimentation that mixed art forms and embraced non-normative lifestyles. Challenging the broad turn toward social conservatism and neoliberalism identified with the election of Ronald Reagan, art-parties forged alternative and queer spaces of possibility, performance, and play that enabled the sharing of progressive politics and the rewriting of cultural systems of meaning. A telling reminder, the art-party is crucial to the cultural vitality and viability of New York City, which has become increasingly jeopardized as a creative site for local and independent producers, and moreover, alternative and queer cultures that critically constitute vanguards.

Theoretically, I frame the art-party as an agent of creative placemaking and queer worldmaking. Creative placemaking refers to strategies whereby different sectors form alliances to shape public space around culture and the arts. Queer worldmaking refers to a public kind of performance, from theatre to community media, which imagines or even concretizes better modes of living and being for queer identified and/or queer-friendly people. Building from archival research and interviews, my project investigates three case studies: 1) the art and performance-oriented nightclub, Club 57 (1978–83); 2) the live public access cable television program, Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party (1978–82); and 3) the experimental symposium celebrating William S. Burroughs, the Nova Convention (1978). Each art-party variously engages in queer worldmaking and creative placemaking to illustrate Downtown’s flourishing creative economy, and to articulate Downtown as place, style and attitude.

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This item is under embargo until May 29, 2021.