arts And Culture in Yonkers
One of the most important aspects of a culture is the Arts. Through the different media artists express their culture and share it with the world and their group. In Yonkers, New York, culture can be found within fine art, music, the performing arts, and dance. In the eighteenth century painters portrayed the simple country life of families all over Westchester. These paintings served as advertisements promoting these country values. Many of these artists were residents of Yonkers, so they were able to portray this culture best. During this time there were also music clubs like bands and choral groups that the residents could be a part of during their leisure time. Many great writers lived in Yonkers adding to the artistic culture. Many more clubs, educational centers, and projects have been created since then; they enrich Yonkers culture and the ethnic cultures within it. Places like Yonkers’ Hudson River Museum, the Yonkers Public Library, Phillipse Manor, and the Sherwood house seek to educate adults and children alike about history and the arts within the cultures of Yonkers.
The Fine Arts
Aside from the Hudson River Museum, the Blue Door Artist Association, founded in 2002, hosts exhibitions of all kinds of art in Yonkers, but unlike the Museum, Blue Door art can be found in different places throughout Yonkers and is a non-profit organization. Their mission is “to bring the arts to local communities throughout the tri-state area, especially those that are ethnically diverse as well as underserved. Though exhibitions displayed in local businesses, libraries and schools as well as public art projects, workshops and special events, [they] aim to offer a cultural presence and serve as a forum to engage the community with the arts.” Blue Door, like some other artist groups, have a presence in the Yonkers Downtown Waterfront area and are working on the revitalization of the area through the use of public art. Their public arts projects include a mural on South Broadway called “Woven Gifts,” paintings on garbage receptacles downtown relating to environmental issues, and decoration of concrete planters with mosaics in the Downtown and South Broadway areas. These projects revitalize the area by adding beauty to these desolate areas and making it an attraction to bring more people in. Blue Door also plays a big role in brining art and culture to the Yonkers community at the Yonkers Riverfest. The project for the 2007 Yonkers Riverfest, “Piecing Together Creativity in Our Community,” sought to create a better arts community. In 2008 the community added art to a totem pole “signifying their importance in the community.” And in 2009 they had a mask-making workshop. All of these projects educate about other cultures whether ethnic or artistic and they bring all of Yonkers together as one big diverse culture and community.
The Music Hall
There is little information about music in Yonkers before the mid-twentieth century. However historians do know that the Music Hall was erected in April of 1884 as an extension of the Warburton Theatre. It originally was located north of Philipse Manor Hall on Warburton Avenue, but was demolished in the 1970s. Before the time of recorded music, residents had to seek out live music and performances. The Music Hall offered the Yonkers elite this opportunity to go see shows and music without going into the city. The performances on the opening day on April 14, 1884 included “songs by the Yonkers Glee Club, selections by the S.t Cecilia String Quartet, and solos by Miss Henrietta Beebe.”
The Fine Arts Orchestral Society of Yonkers (FAOS), founded in 1962, “leads the way in providing free live concerts to residents of Yonkers, and its surrounding communities.” FAOS sponsors the Yonkers Philharmonic, which gives many free concerts at Saunders High School, the Cross County Shopping Center, the City of Yonkers, and even outdoor summer concerts. The orchestra supports preserving the music culture by offering high school students scholarships and educational opportunities for people in their teens to seniors. The orchestra performs at many cultural events in Yonkers. One of the main goals FAOS seeks to carry out is to provide “senior citizens and families with free recreational and cultural programs that otherwise would be inaccessible to them.” They are bringing culture to educate and entertain people about that culture. The FAOS also seeks to maintain its cultural diversity within the orchestra. With more people of different cultures, the orchestra can be exposed to new music and then eventually expose it to the people of Yonkers. The Male Glee Club of Yonkers, formed in 1926, also brings music to public events.
Many musicians have contributed to the musical atmosphere of Yonkers. W.C. Handy, the “Father of Blues,” moved to Yonkers in 1943. He contributed to the musical culture of Yonkers by having a “benefit program at Hawthrone Junior High School in 1952 to raise money for the Nepperhan Community Center and gave an informal talk to the Yonkers Philharmonic Society on the origin, development, and influence of the blues.” He spoke at many schools as well. Gene Krupa, a drummer, also helped out in Yonkers. According to a friend of Krupa’s, Nick Rossi, “[Gene] was one of the most generous men [Nick] ever met. He donated the organ to St. Denis Church, and could be called on any time to do benefits, particularly for retarded kids. That was his main charity.” These musicians wanted Yonkers society to learn about music and for the children to be inspired. By inspiring them to be creative the music culture will flourish in Yonkers.
Yonkers has had its share of different performing arts groups. The old Doric/Orpheum Theatre held many Vaudeville performances. Actors would train in Yonkers, some of who lived in Yonkers or eventually moved there. The jokes and performances put Yonkers on the map. According to Walton, “the stage was set for many jokes and quips about Yonkers, some of which became nationally and even internationally known. Probably the most famous of them all was ‘What are Yonkers?’ a play on words…Yonkers thus gained wide fame and good publicity with a laugh. As mentioned before, the Music Hall at Yonkers’ Warburton Theatre held many theatre performances. This attracted many people to Yonkers because instead of going to the busy New York City to see a play, one could travel to Yonkers for quality theatre. In an article from the New York Times in 1894, a businessman, when asked if he had to go to New York or Yonkers to see a play, responded:
The theatre, though popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, was demolished in the 1970s.
Untermyer Performing Arts Council
There are many performing arts groups in Yonkers that express the different cultures of the area. The Untermyer Performing Arts Council, Inc. (UPAC) is another non-profit organization dedicated to spreading culture in Yonkers. They have programs throughout the year as well as a summer concert series for all ages and races. UPAC has presented “the largest Cinco de Mayo Festival in Westchester County…[featured] special holiday cultural events such as “Halloween Around the World” and an annual Irish concert each March.” Different performance groups, local and international, have contacted UPAC to perform. Some of the cultural groups are: DESNA Ukrainian Dance Company of Toronto, Thalia Spanish Theatre, and the Aloha Paradise and Review. These groups are able to educate and entertain the audience with their cultures. Since 2007, UPAC has sponsored Yonkers Idol Search, a spin on American Idol. It is a free program for Yonkers kids ages 10-19. This program promotes music and singing or Yonkers’ youth. According to Yonkers Rising Newspaper, this free program…has helped bring talent of many Yonkers performers to the attention of the city.” Since it is free, kids of all cultures can join in on the competition and families of all cultures can attend and be one together.
Youth Theatre Interactions and the Actor’s Conservatory Theatre
Youth Theatre Interactions (YTI), founded in 1971, is a non-profit organization aimed to instruct children and teens in the performing arts. These kids learn how to express their creativity so that they can use it in their future endeavors. These students will get to perform in “libraries, churches, community centers, senior centers, youth agencies, and in collaboration with other Westchester community-based organizations. The Actor’s Conservatory Theatre (ACT) is another non-profit organization formed in the 1970’s. Starting in 1975 ACT has put on musicals and drams in Westchester. They offer training for children and all levels of acting. Their comedy improv troupe, Falling Rock Zone, “has performed at clubs, colleges, theaters, First Nights, corporate events, and fundraisers.”
Bokandeye African-American Dance Theater
Dance is a fundamental party of the artistic culture of a group. Many traditional dances are practiced in Yonkers today. One main example is the Bokandeye African-American Dance Theater, established in 1994. The Bokandeye African-American Dance Theater is well known for their cultural dance and has performed many times at Yonkers events. Bokandeye aims to unite and educate all people about the African-American culture. They have workshops for children, teens, and adults in dance, music, and culture. According to their website, “although members of Bokandeye are from various different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, Bokandeye African-American Dance Theatre truly believes they are one ‘family’ united by the same mother (Mother Africa). Bokandeye vows to continue the true spirit of family while representing others, and the importance of unity, and all of its resounding possibilities.”
 Blue Door Gallery, "Blue Door Gallery." http://bluedoorgallery.org/.
 Blue Door Gallery.
 Victorian Source.com, "Music Hall (aka Washburn Building, Warburton Theatre)." http://www.victoriansource.com/id31.html.
 "Encores for Every Piece." The New York Times, April 15, 1884.
 Yonkers Philharmonic, "Yonkers Philharmonic Orchestra." http://www.yonkersphilharmonic.org.
 Yonkers Philharmonic.
 The Male Glee Club of Yonkers, "The Male Glee Club of Yonkers." http://yonkersgleeclub.tripod.com.
 Tom Flynn, "W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues," Yonkers Historian, 16, no. 4 (2007): 7
 Tom Flynn, “Gene Krupa, Yonkers’ Legendary Drummer,” Yonkers Historian, 18, no. 4 (2009): 3.
 Frank Ledyard Walton, 159.
 "Yonkers Has Many Charms: Combines the Advantages of Both City and Country." The New York Times, June 10, 1894. http://www.victoriansource.com/id32.html (accessed).
 Untermyer Performing Arts Council, Inc., "Untermyer Performing Arts." http://www.untermyer.com.
 Untermyer Performing Arts Council, Inc.
 "Yonkers Idol Search 2012." Yonkers Rising, March 23, 2012.
 Youth Theatre Interactions, Inc, "Youth Theatre Interactions - After School Performing Arts Program Serving the Youth of Yonkers." http://ytiyonkers.org/.
 Actor's Conservatory Theatre, "ActShows." http://www.actshows.org.
 Bokandeye African American Dance Theater, "Bokandeye African American Dance Theater." http://www.bokandeye.com/.