3 Unusual Ways to Experience the NYC Art Scene

June 29, 2016   1 Comment »

New York City is one of the most artistic cities in the world, and I’m continuously amazed at all of the creative events, places, and people the city is filled with; the NYC art scene is thriving. Prior to moving to New York City, I didn’t really have an intense appreciation for the arts, but it’s impossible not to get caught up in it once you live here.

“The City of New York is an important center for music, film, theater, dance and visual art. Artists have been drawn into the city by opportunity, as the city government funds the arts with a larger annual budget than the National Endowment for the Arts, and New York is a major center of the global art market which grew up along with national and international media centers” via NYCFuture.org

Most people who visit New York City purchase a ticket for one of the popular museums, or attend the latest Broadway Show.

However in my quest to always find unusual experiences when I travel, I have dug deeper than the popular NYC art scene and have delved into the obscure.

If you’ve done all of the typical NYC artsy things, or are like me and just like the quirky side of life, here are 3 very unusual ways to experience the NYC art scene.

Don’t Just Go to a NYC Museum, Hack it.

Our Museum Hack guide doesn’t have an art degree and this is not a hoity-toity art tour, instead it’s about stories of art that Michelle, our guide, finds interesting, unusual, or funny. “I walk fast like a New Yorker, but we aren’t going to see the whole Met,” Michelle says, “instead I’m going to show you the 14 best things ever.” And by ‘best things ever’, this doesn’t mean the popular things, it means the quirky things with intriguing stories. And that’s why I love the concept of Museum Hack.

metropolitan museum nyc

The Met via Museum Hack

With the tagline, “This isn’t your grandmas museum tour” Museum Hack is a tour group who does themed tours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History. The tours are highly interactive, subversive, fun, and definitely non-traditional. The guides lead you through the stuffy museums in a light-hearted way telling you stories about the works of art by putting it all in modern day terms that we can relate to. Suddenly art that seems old, confusing and pretentious can be understood and we relate to what the artists were going through and thinking.

Visit NYC Museums with Museum Hack

Museum Hack Website
They run regular tours, and private ones for groups and are always expanding their offerings.

Don’t Watch a Broadway Show, Be a Part of One

Never in my life have I been transported into another world so convincingly. I entered the bar, amidst the hazy glow of lights and smoke, a woman dressed in a flapper dress caressed the vintage microphone and crooned out a familiar tune in a sultry voice. The bassist made uneasy eye contact with me making me wonder if I needed to watch my back.  The Manderley Bar, a part of the McKittrick Hotel and the Sleep No More ‘theater’,  was the opening act and set for what was to come.

NYC Theater Sleep No More

Experience NYC’s Sleep No More Theater.    Photo via Sleep No More

From there we were given masks, told not to speak a word, and put in an elevator to ‘enter the show’, and let off on a dark, random floor to fend for ourselves. This is Sleep No More – an experiential choose-you-own-adventure type theater show. One in which you are in the middle of the action as actors run around you and you can choose to follow them through the maze of 6 stories of old warehouse space turned theater set. Or you can slowly poke around one of the 91 rooms gathering clues, running into actors, fight scenes, and story lines as you explore the rooms.

Sleep No More is loosely based on the story of MacBeth, and occasionally you will find the main actors, but sometimes you simply find yourself alone, in a room, trying to make sense of it all. There are no words spoken, by the actors or the wandering audience, but it’s all set to daunting, creepy music that rises and falls with the action and echos throughout the 6 floors.

NYC Theater Sleep No More

The audience wears masks and it in the middle of the set – a part of the production.     Photo via Sleep No More

At the end of the show, you’ll be as confused as ever, but you’ll also know that you have experienced one of the coolest and most unusual theater shows in New York City. And only in NYC could an idea like this be dreamed up and implemented so well. If you like intrigue and experiential theater, then forget the traditional Broadway shows, and get involved in Sleep No More.

Visit the NYC Theater and Sleep No More

Sleep No More Website
Sleep No More is an indoor promenade performance lasting up to three hours. There are five arrival times for each performance ranging from 6:00pm-12:00am depending on the day of the week.

Skip the Comedy Clubs And Experience the Art of Story Telling At Moth

Storytelling brings things to life. We all love stories; they can cross the barriers of time and allow us to experience similarities. Storytelling is an art, whether you are painting a story, writing one, or telling one on stage without notes. Since 1997 The Moth has been promoting the art of storytelling in New York City. I’ve watched it grow from simple story slams held in small venues on the Lower East Side, to expanding all over the world. Gone are the days where I paid a $5 cover to the bar and just walked in he night of the show. The Moth is now a well known brand; an artistic force and movement that has expanded throughout the world, but still has its roots in NYC.

Moth storytelling events NYC

Photo via Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

At its essence the Moth is a story slam; people show up, put their name in a hat, and if they are lucky will be chosen to tell a 5 minute story based on the topic. Judges choose winners for the night but no prizes are given out. It’s simply a way to engage in and promote story telling in a fun social setting. You can also simply show up, not put your name in the hat, and enjoy the stories as the audience. Moth stories have made me cry, laugh, and ponder life decisions; a moving event if you are the audience or the story teller.

However, the Moth has grown into a much greater movement; story slams worldwide, a well known podcast, and huge events to raise money to keep the art of live storytelling growing. I used to be able to show up and just walk in, but over the last 10 years the popularity has grown and some processes have been put in place.

I’m not going to lie – it’s hard to get tickets to the little bar story slams any more, but here’s how I recommend going about it if you have an upcoming trip to NYC and you want to experience this artistic local event. Story Slams in NYC happen about twice a month at various bars in the village or lower east side. The cost of a ticket is $10 – but the tickets sell out within an hour of them going on sale, so the key is to know when they go on sale. Tickets go on sale one week before the event at 3PM EST and are also announced in the newsletter.  Sign up for the NYC Moth Newsletter here.  Then set a timer for exactly one week before at 3PM Eastern for the story slam you want to go to. Look for the newsletter to hit your inbox or just go to the website and purchase immediately.

And if you are brave, put your name in the hat and tell your story! It’s a bucket list item of mine that I’ve never been able to get up the courage to do yet!

Attend a NYC Moth Story Slam

The Moth Website
Newsletter Signup
Moth isn’t just in NYC, see the other Moth Story Slam Cities here

These three quirky ways to experience the art scene in NYC will get you off the normal tourist trail in NYC and give you a new and unique perspective of what New York City artists have to offer.

Plan your Visit to NYC:

Lodging: I normally stay with friends when visiting NYC, however I recommend the Marriott hotels for a great NYC Accommodation Experience. You’ll find all shapes, sizes, locations and budgets there!

Want Other Unusual and Local Things to do in NYC?

Follow my Travels.


I worked in collaboration with Marriott International on this article, however all opinions expressed here are my own.

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