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Behind the Exhibit: New York at Its Core

Find out New York’s history at the Museum of the City of New York

Five years in the making, New York at Its Core, at the Museum of the City of New York, is a series of three micro-exhibits showing the evolution of the city from a quaint fishing village into a modern metropolis. New York City attracts visitors from across the globe, but why? Sarah Henry, the Chief Curator and Deputy Director at the Museum of the City of New York gave us an inside look at the powerful exhibit and how necessary it is for people to connect with the history of this great city.

Filip Wolak Courtesy MCNY

“When we first started to plan the exhibition our objective was to come up with a framework that would give shape to the narrative. Our goal was never to tell the whole story of New York; rather, we were searching for a lens that would make meaning out of the complexities of the city and deepen visitors’ understanding,” Henry said and explained how she and her co-curator, Hilary Ballon, along with the Museum’s director and designers, came up with four words that describe what makes New York New York, “Money, diversity, density and creativity. These four words provide a way of thinking about the nature of our city’s character.”

Filip Wolak Courtesy MCNY

Throughout the three galleries, visitors will be drawn into different aspects of the city with the help of people’s voices, objects and individual lives. “With the birds eye view of maps and data, visitors are able to understand the city as a whole. Along with the elegant and clear design, you can take in the complexities of New York without being overwhelmed,” said Henry. “I’m very proud of the way that all three galleries transition from macro to micro stories and marry the specific themes so clearly.”

Filip Wolak Courtesy MCNY

One of the most surprising aspects of the exhibit is the amount of space dedicated to the future of New York. Henry explains, “More than a third of the show is devoted to the future. The Future City Lab is a new type of installation for us and it’s really groundbreaking. We want to immerse people in an exploration of where New York is today and ask them to consider the challenges the city faces in the coming years, and invite them to envision what might be.”

The show incorporates a level of digital technology paired with personal ephemera from notable New Yorkers, providing different ways for people to engage in the content. You’ll find unique uses of maps including immersive streetscapes along with memorabilia from “boss” Tweed and Calvert Vaux. 

Filip Wolak Courtesy MCNY

When asked about what she thinks New York is at its core, Henry said, “I continue to find it compelling that money, diversity, and density together produce the signature creativity that is at the heart of New York. It continues to draw the fascination of people from all over the world. At its heart, the city is both a place and its people, which is why the blend of maps, streetscapes, and portraits in all three galleries resonates so strongly.”

New York at Its Core is at the Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue, at 103rd Street, Manhattan; 212-534-1672, mcny.org.

Top image of Mulberry Street, New York by Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao