Since 1996, Nightlife Publishing has attempted to foster the idea that nightlife is an essential element of urban living. My 2010 book Seize the Night argued that nightlife is a cultural and financial resource of a city that should be protected by the government instead of being attacked by government proxies. In 2011, the Nightlife Cultural Initiative was created to elevate nightlife culture through education and exposure. While we have made some strides and have significant programs planned for the near future, there have been considerable obstacles. That is why it is gratifying to see other established cultural institutions raising the profile of nightlife culture in New York.
Under the auspices of the Museum of Art and Design in Columbus Circle, a program called the FUN Fellowship in the Social Practice of Nightlife is being used to raise awareness of nightlife as an art form. The fellowship has been providing financial and logistical support for nightlife artists for the past three years, but this year FUN went further by organizing the first Conference on Nightlife as Social Practice.
The event was held over a three day period at the museum. There were seven panel discussions in total, with topics ranging from explorations of nightlife as a ritual event to debates over whether nightlife in New York was dead (See If Nightlife is Dead then You Killed It). Speakers included established nightlife writers like Michael Musto, successful operators including Ladyfag, Sophia Lamar and Rob Roth, academics like Dr. Gayil Nalls and several performance artists who are currently thriving in New York nightlife. The range of perspectives and the intensity of the discussion was enlightening and inspiring for anyone who appreciates the cultural value of nightlife.
The conference was not without limitations. Music is a fundamental aspect of nightlife culture, but from what I could see there were no DJ's or musicians represented in the panels. There was also no reference to the impact of hip hop, house or other dominant music forms in the discussions. There was also a distinct homogeny in the cultural, racial and sexual orientation of the panelists. This is especially noticeable because the panels to a large extent didn't reflect the broad spectrum of nightlife that has always been inherent in New York City. It would have been a more comprehensive experience if nightlife experts with an alternative perspective had a chance to participate (See the NCI interviews with Kamala, Madison Moore and Herbert Holler).
Overall, the conference discussed important issues and raised the profile of nightlife as a cultural institution. Hopefully, a new political administration in City Hall and renewed interest in nightlife can make events like the FUN Conference a long running program for New York nightlife.