CULTURAL RENEWAL. Arts, entertainment help Harlem revive
New York — ``Harlem today is not the romantic area of yesterday that so many people think still exists. Yet Harlem is the most significant center of black culture in the world,'' Howard Dotson says. As president and curator of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, he asks, ``Where else can you find the complexities of this community - native, Southern, West Indian, Caribbean, African cultures - all concentrated in a compact area in Manhattan? Our cultural institutions are the anchor of today's new movements.''
Scholars and tourists come to the Schomburg Center to see and hear its art and historical exhibits, seminars, and workshops.
Other forms of culture also attract visitors. ``You haven't done this town till you've done it Uptown,'' says the Uptown Chamber of Commerce in its brochures. People are listening. Every Wednesday evening they flock to the Apollo Theatre in Harlem for the revived tradition of Amateur Night.
But beyond the bright theater lights and the cultural exhibits lies another Harlem - one of slums, vacant lots, high-rise public housing, and teeming street life. This Harlem is ``The Soul of Black Folks,'' wrote William E.B. DuBois, a scholar, civil rights activist, and author during the prime years (1925-55) of the so-called Harlem Renaissance.
This well-publicized community in northern Manhattan is in the midst of a renewal that some have already begun calling the second Harlem Renaissance. As the ``soul capital'' of the black world alters its face, more whites and Orientals are likely to move into this predominantly black and Hispanic community.
But local cultural leaders hope to perpetuate the traditional black character of the community through such institutions as the Schomburg Center, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the National Black Theatre, and the Studio Museum in Harlem.
The Schomburg is about to launch an expansion of its facilities by refurbishing the original 135th Street branch library to house its special collection of more than 5 million items including books, bound volumes, microforms, photographs, and periodicals.
The Schomburg is also involved in two contemporary exhibits outside its own facilities, one at the Studio Museum in Harlem and the other at the main branch of the New York Public Library. Artworks from the original Harlem Renaissance are on display at the Studio Museum, and the photographic artistry of Gordon Parks is at the library.
Nostalgic places like the Savoy and the Renaissance Ballrooms, the Cotton Club, Small's Paradise, and so many spots immortalized in stories, myth, and songs are gone from Harlem.
That Harlem faded away with the explosive civil rights and black-power movements of the late 1960s and early '70s.
With this period came the community's economic decline, but a new set of pacesetters has arisen to initiate a new renaissance.
Percy Sutton, who was once president of the Borough of Manhattan, says he quit politics 10 years ago ``to help [local blacks] get involved in the economic framework of New York City.''
A profitable investment in oil, he says, gave him the seed money he needed to develop the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation, New York's second-largest black business.
Inner City operates two local stations, plus stations in San Francisco, Detroit, and San Antonio.
``We're proud to develop the Apollo, which is proving to be a favorite tourist attraction for Harlem,'' Mr. Sutton says.
``We took the Apollo out of bankruptcy, cleaned up the walls, and had a grand opening last summer. Today people know their way to Harlem,'' Sutton says.
`` We can bring Harlem back, but we can never restore the past. If we can institutionalize the communications area, this will be one step forward. It will mean new jobs,'' he adds.
Sutton sees economic revival already in progress on 125th Street, where the Apollo is located. Crime and muggings are down, he says. ``People love the Apollo,'' he explains. ``There's no graffiti on the walls. Our `Walk of Fame' [stars who have performed at the Apollo] has 162 paintings and not one has been defaced. We're restoring the Apollo. ... We're not seeking the fast buck. We believe in the Apollo and Harlem.''
The Apollo's grand opening attracted a full house to see 350 ``stars,'' not all black, pay tribute to the theater on its 50th anniversary. ``Supporting the Apollo is not altruism,'' Sutton says. ``It creates a climate of improvement. This shows that we believe in the Apollo, and we believe in Harlem!''
Through the Apollo and the radio stations, he says, Inner City exports Harlem. ``And this will pay off in dollars and cents for Harlem dwellers,'' he says.
The community also promotes itself with Harlem Week, climaxed by Harlem Day. This annual event, which stretched out to 13 days in 1985, spotlights almost every phase of life uptown, and it moves downtown with programs at City Hall Plaza and further uptown with the Harlem Youth Olympics at Courtland Park in the Bronx.
New York State is concentrating its ``I Love New York'' campaign this year on Harlem.
It has produced an ``I Love New York Harlem Travel Guide'' in conjunction with the Harlem Visitors and Convention Association and the Uptown Chamber of Commerce.
Today Harlem is exported to downtown Manhattan to such places as Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, WNET-TV, the Waldorf Astoria, and to the national television world. Radio station WBLS-FM ranks among the top 10 in New York.
A key example was an awards program, ``The Immortals,'' sponsored by the Association of Black Charities at Carnegie Hall in February, combining civic activity with the cultural. The association presented ``black historymakers'' awards to opera soprano Leontyne Price, minister Leon H. Sullivan, and educator Clifton R. Wharton Jr.
Second of four articles. Next: Housing for Harlem. The first article ran on March 9.