Carnegie Hall Festival to Celebrate Migration and America

The idea that the diaspora experience is central to America’s narrative is famously expressed in Emma Lazarus’s sonnet at the Statue of Liberty, with its celebrated line, “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Our immigration ethos, and an exploration of immigrants’ contributions to American arts and culture, are at the heart of Carnegie Hall’s Migrations: The Making of America festival, which is set to begin on March 9 and run through May 19, and will include concerts at the hall, as well as programming at 80 partner institutions around New York. (Each organization produces its own events.)

[Check out our Culture Calendar here.]

The goal, according to Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall’s executive and artistic director, is to examine the indelible link between the mass movement of people over the past century and American history. “We are inviting audiences to look more closely at how the migrations of people to and within this country, and the evolution of art forms that they have developed here, have been powerful influences on the creation and development of American culture,” he said in a statement.

Carnegie Hall will amplify the musical legacies of three migrations: the arrival of Eastern European and Russian Jews between 1881 and 1924; the Irish and Scottish migrations of the 18th and 19th centuries; and the Great Migration of African-Americans from the rural South to the big cities of the Northeast, Midwest and West between 1917 and the 1970s.

Three headlining shows will represent musical culture, with traditional Scots, Irish and American folk music; Yiddish musical theater; and jazz and blues.

[Read about Jacob Lawrence’s famous paintings of the Great Migration.]

Six additional musical soirees (two per motif) will offer contemporary takes on the music — like new-fashioned renditions of Irish and Celtic sounds and klezmer rhythms infused with soulful bluegrass — highlighting how immigrants’ artistry often straddles cultures in America’s melting pot.

Cultural events presented by partners will be broader in scope. Such interdisciplinary events, from the Museum of the City of New York, El Museo del Barrio and American Irish Historical Society, examine issues surrounding identity, cultural diffusion and what it means to be an American. More than 100 exhibitions, panels, dance performances, concerts and culinary events are planned.

For many institutions, the festival provides a welcome platform to draw attention to the distinct experiences of their communities. The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, for example, has delved into its extensive archives and has organized an exhibition of prescient cartoons published in Der Groyser Kundes, the Lower East Side’s premier Yiddish satirical weekly paper in the early 1920s. The exhibition, “The Door Slams Shut: Jews and Immigration in the Face of American Reaction,” focuses on New York’s idiosyncratic history in welcoming migrants.

“Because our collection has such a large number of documents and artifacts relating to immigration, it just seemed like a perfect fit to explore these complex dynamics,” Eddy Portnoy, YIVO’s director of exhibitions, said in a phone interview.

The China Institute, a nearly 100-year-old nonprofit organization, will host an immigration-related panel with the award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) and the musician Du Yun on March 13.

More information is at

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