Art, Galleries, Murals

Harlem: Experience Its Culture Through Art

From the Harlem Renaissance to contemporary visual artists who currently display, work and live in Harlem, the Arts have provided the bustling backdrop of the area’s rich cultural heritage for over 100 years. Harlem has long been established as a global destination for entertainment and the arts, drawing in historians and artists alike. It’s no wonder well-heeled galleries are moving from SoHo to establish studios and exhibition spaces above 106th Street, contributing to the vibrant energy and creative legacy Harlem has to offer.

“The Spirit of Harlem” mural in East Harlem”

Walking down any given street in Harlem, one can find its rich cultural history visually interwoven at every turn. Grand murals such as “The Spirit of East Harlem” displays the neighborhood’s diverse character from diasporas, murals and homages of prominent Latino figures are ubiquitously painted on brick facades by James De La Vega and other local artists. Themed murals have been commissioned throughout Harlem to display not only the neighborhood’s rich culture, but also pressing social issues; a few murals featured about town are part of the #Educationisnotacrime campaign, drawing parallels to the Baha’is in Iran, linking it to the social struggle of education inequality in the United States, as well as other areas around the world. Even the Audubon Society has found this public medium in Harlem, drawing attention to climate-threatened birds on street walls.

Art is plentiful in other environments in Harlem, from the subway station displays, to any given café or restaurant, to community gardens. Harlem is always visually stimulating, boasting compelling narratives behind the works of art.   Walking tours of Harlem with a focus on murals will be available in late Spring/Summer, but while it’s cold outside, Harlem is also home to a plethora of formidable art spaces, galleries and institutions, celebrating the neighborhood’s heritage and culture (but indoors). Below are our recommendations in the neighborhood, mostly above 106th Street, from East to West Harlem and further north to Washington Heights-Inwood. 

“Keeping it Clean” by Betye Saar, photo courtesy of The New Your Historical Society

The New York Historical Society, a Harlem Renaissance partner of Harlem One Stop, will host the exhibition, “Betye Saar – Keepin’ It Clean” through Monday, May 27, 2019. The exhibition features contemporary artist Betye Saar, “a key figure in the Black Arts Movement and the feminist art movement of the 1960-70’s.” who has “shaped the development of assemblage art in the United States as a device to illuminate social and political concerns.” The exhibition is presented in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Museum, part of the Center for Women’s History and is organized by the Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles. (Adults: $10, Seniors, Students and Teachers: $5, Children 12 and under accompanied by adults: free, Members: Free)  

El Museo del Barrio, photo courtesy of

Currently viewing at El Museo del Barrio through April 14, 2019 is “Lucio Fontana: Spatial Environment”, which coincides with the artist’s exhibition at The Met Breuer, “Lucio Fontana: On the Threshold.” The exhibition was, “conceived in relation to the artist’s innovative Spatialism movement, starting from 1949, Fontana’s Spatial Environments are immersive environments that viewers enter and navigate.” El Museo del Barrio’s permanent collection is also worth taking in, featuring a 6,500-object Permanent Collection of Caribbean, Latino and Latin American art. (Suggested admissions: Adults – $9, Students and Seniors – $5, Free for members and children under 12, free for seniors on Wednesdays)

“Race, Myth, Art and Justice Exhibtion” photo courtesy of CCCAD

From now to Saturday, June 15, 2019, The Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute of New York hosts the exhibition, “Race, Myth, Art and Justice Exhibition” which “explores intersecting ideas of race, myth, art, and justice through the lens and unique interpretation of twelve inter-generational photographers.” (Suggested donation: $5.00)  


Joiri Minaya. Redecode II: La Dorada, 2018

On view at Columbia University’s Miller Theater, curated by Wallach Art Gallery’s Deborah Cullen is, “Joiri Minaya: Redecode II: La Dorada” which focuses on the “construction of the female subject in relation to nature and landscapates in a ‘tropical’ context, shaped by a foreign gaze that demands leisure and pleasure,” in which, “the Dominican-American artist transforms the lobby of Miller Theatre with a new installation from her series, Tropical Surfaces, in which she specifically deconstructs and re-imagines tropical design, pointing to it as an invention of the Global North’s imaginary.” (Free Admission)  

“The Grey Cat” by Romare Bearden

The Essie Green Gallery features the “works of Black Masters such as Romare Bearden, Charles Alston, Lois Mailou Jones, Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Charles Ethan Porter, Edwin Bannister, Allen Stringfellow Sam Gilliam Alma Thomas, William S. Carter and many other artists of the 19th and 20th centuries” which can be viewed Tuesdays-Saturdays from 10 AM – 6 PM by appointment. (Free Admission)    

Image courtesy of FACTION Art


Harlem Perspectives II will be viewing at FACTION Art Projects through Saturday, March 2, 2019, showcasing an “eclectic mix of local artists who live and work above Manhattan’s 110th Street,” with works from artists “who deconstruct history through their process of art making,” and is co-curated by Leanne Stella of Art in FLUX. (Free Admission)


Faith Ringgold, Illustration from Tar Beach, 1990. Image courtesy of the Artist and ACA Galleries, New York

Until April 14, 2019, The Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling features “Sugar Hill Songbook: Select Work by Faith Ringgold” which “features a collection of works on paper, soft sculptures, quilts, and illustrations inspired by the rich cultural and political heritage of the artist’s home of Sugar Hill.” The exhibition is “accompanied by a year-long program of intergenerational activities exploring the global impact of the life and legacy of Faith Ringgold and how she has sparked the imaginations of children through art and storytelling, empowering them and their families to better understand and address the complexities of racism, representation, and identity with dignity and hope.” (Admission: Children ages 0 to 8 – Free, Youth ages 9 to 17 – $4, Seniors (65+) – $4, Students (with ID) – $4), Adults – $7, Visitors with EBT Card and a form of ID as part of Museums for All program – Free with Culture Pass, Sugar Hill Children’s Museum – Free, Cool Culture card holders – Free, Every third Sunday of the Month for PLAYDATE! – Free)

Harlem is home to many more galleries and arts institutions and art related events, especially as the warm weather approaches. The Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA), launches its 17th Uptown Arts Stroll from May 28 – June 30, 2019. For more information, visit The Striver’s Art Circuit is a monthly event of art studios and venues on Stiver’s Row corridor, and one to watch out for –  information can be found here.

Please visit our website,, for a more comprehensive calendar of programs, celebrating the rich, cultural heritage of Harlem.

Milagros Verendia – Contributor for Harlem One Stop



Mica Verendia

Mica Verendia

Mica covers community events and features in the Arts and Harlem Renaissance 100 for Harlem One Stop and Harlem Beat on the Street.