I walked past this sign one night and realized what a striking place it was marking. Though not exactly a “religious” site, the Dwyer Cultural Center is a multimedia cultural center committed to the culture, history, and traditions of Harlem. Founded only a couple years ago in 2009, the center was created as the creative project of two non-profit organizations, Community Works and International Communications Association. The Dwyer Cultural Center, or DCC now hosts year-round activities and exhibits to support the local arts and culture of the Harlem community.
As the sign indicates, one of their ongoing exhibits, entitled “Harlem Is…” explores a wide range of topics that all contribute to Harlem as a cultural place. As the website indicates, the eight-part exhibition “celebrates the legendary people, places, and institutions [such as the Gospel tradition] that helped shape the world-famous Harlem community.” The eight parts of the series are: Its People, Music, Art, Dance, The Gospel Tradition, Theater, Latin Roots (East Harlem), and Voices of Youth. The space is also used to showcase new emerging artists in the area, with a specific emphasis on targeting intergenerational audiences, from oldest members of the community, to their great-great-grand-kids. This innovation of a brand-new cultural hub in Harlem seems to address one of the major concerns I’ve heard voiced by people of all different faiths and traditions throughout my explorations in Harlem: that the youth are no longer active in the religious life that has had such profound historical resonance on the cultural fabric of Harlem as a whole. It is also fascinating that here is a space dedicated to defining Harlem as a very specific cultural “place”. Juxtaposed with Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts’ notion that “Harlem is Nowhere,” the Dwyer Cultural Center presents an alternative perspective: that indeed Harlem IS somewhere, a place situated by both its culture and history. Upcoming events at the DCC include a film screening of a documentary of “Harlem is…Gospel Tradition”, an evening with local artists called “Spirit of Community”, and a photography exhibit on modern youth hairstyles and trends in Harlem called “Killa Swag!” Here is a link to their website, with a schedule of their events: http://www.dwyercc.org/