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Trailer for Straight Outta Tompkins (Video via Vimeo)

Their is no shortage of television series and feature films that take place in NYC. Our fair metropolis this year alone has been the setting for Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2; Fox’s Batman prequel Gotham; and Cinemax’s The Knick. While NYC is often a setting for crime dramas, we are noticing something strange about the current depictions of it on screen: it’s a little too polished.

The NYC we remember seeing is the NYC of Scorsese and Spike Lee. Yes, those days are behind us, however even with NYC crime rates reaching record lows, crime does still exist in NYC. It is something we live with and what has inspired some of our most creative and passionate film directors. NYC is not just what is shown on Broad City and 2 Broke Girls. But has NYC has lost its cinematic edge?

Zephyr Benson feels the same way. A recent graduate of NYU’s Tisch School (the same school that gave us Lee and Scorsese), Benson is set to deliver us a harsh, gritty portrayal of life in the East Village and the LES with his debut feature Straight Outta Tompkins.

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The Strangers Project-Brandon Doman-Stories-Hi There-Brooklyn-NYC

In Washington Square Park, we ran into Brandon Doman, founder of The Strangers Project, an on-going collection of over 10,000 handwritten journal entries Doman has collected from around the country. The enticing and friendly, “HI THERE!” sign drew our eye and we read some of the fascinating entries while chatting with Doman. He started the idea just on a whim at a coffee shop because he was suddenly curious about all hundreds of people walking by. Using a marker he wrote, “Hi there! Please stop and share your story!” which evolved into the current project.

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You know about food trucks, but New York City is full of other types of unique mobile truck businesses. And no, we’re not talking about the NYPD trucks that process delinquents…

1. Del Re’s Knife Grinding Truck

“It’s like old New York,” says a happy customer waiting for her kitchen knives to be sharpened Saturday morning near Columbia University. 58-year old Dominic Del Re is from Italy and was a commodities trader in New York City. He decided to get into the mobile knife sharpening business after the stock market crash of 1987. The truck is from his wife’s uncle, a knife grinder in Montreal, who also taught him the trade, which was passed down from his wife’s grandfather. He started in Brooklyn and now goes all over. He doesn’t like photographs, but will jokingly charge you $1 per shot. And he has a strict no weapons policy.

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01_MTA Arts and Transit_Untapped Cities_NYC_Bhushan Mondkar“Sky Reflector-Net” by James Carpenter, Grimshaw Architects and ARUP, is the largest single work ever commissioned by MTA Arts & Design. Image: Patrick Cashin

The New York City subway system is beaming with amazing art installations–from colorful mosaics to the “Sky Reflector-Net” at the recently opened Fulton Center, which also boasts a new digital arts program on 52 screens. Of course, the subway system today is worlds apart from the one in 1970s (remember the images of graffiti covered subway trains?). But over the years, one group within the MTA has made our ride more imaginative–MTA Arts & Design (formerly known as MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design)–has slowly but steadily amassed an incredible underground Art Museum spanning across all five boroughs, pumping an artistic energy into the subway system.

As MTA Arts & Design approaches its 30th anniversary, Untapped Cities had the opportunity to talk with Sandra Bloodworth, who has been the director of MTA Arts & Design since 1996. Her latest book, New York’s Underground Art Museum: MTA Arts & Design has just been released. She graciously talked about various topics including the early days of the organization, opportunities and challenges that have evolved over the years and bringing public art into New York’s public transit. The interview was conducted by Catherine Mondkar and Bhushan Mondkar and will be presented in four parts in the coming weeks. We begin the series by talking about the origin and evolution of MTA Arts & Design.

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Fulton Center Transit Hub-MTA-Cast Iron Gate-Hotel McAlpin-Marine Murals-NYC

Herald Square seems packed full of retail, department stores, and office buildings today, but there’s a large apartment building at the corner of 34th Street and Broadway that was once the Hotel McAlpin. At its completion in 1912, it was the largest hotel in the world with a Turkish bath on the top floor and two gender-specific floors. Perhaps most of note was the Hotel McAlpin’s restaurant, the Marine Grill, for its terra cotta murals and cast iron entrance gate. In fact, the restaurant originally had a different name but was renamed the Marine Grill, in celebration of the subject matter of the murals–major moments in New York City’s maritime history from Henry Hudson’s arrival to Robert Fulton’s steamship. Thanks to preservationists, the terra cotta murals and the entrance gate are now embedded into the new Fulton Center Transit Hub.

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Holocaust-Carving-Madison-Square-Park-Concentration-Camp-World-War-NYC-Flatiron-Untapped Cities-Nasha Virata

We’ve made it a habit to wander the city looking both up and down. But we can also find the unexpected by looking straight ahead. On the corner of Madison Avenue and East 25th Street is a discreet yet stark and deeply affecting Holocaust memorial. The piece’s smaller scale makes it an easy miss but placed at eye-level, it is an evocative memorial worth examining up close on the annex facade of the Appellate Division Courthouse.

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