The Best International Cultural Centers

arts & entertainment

by Audrey Tempelsman, Time Out New York contributor, 09/15/2010

« »
  • print

China Institute
125 E. 65th Street, Upper East Side, 212-744-8181
What it is: China is the focus at this institute, which is the oldest bicultural organization devoted to that country in the U.S. Enter through its bright-red front door, which is flanked by twin lion statues—the animals were added to the turn-of-the-century building in 1944.
What it does: The institute offers one-stop shopping for all things Middle Kingdom, hosting Mandarin classes for kids and adults, films and lectures on Chinese culture. The center also organizes the Annual China Institute Executive Summit, a conference that examines business relations between the United States and China.
What’s next: A different form of political propaganda can be seen in the institute’s upcoming exhibit, Woodcuts in Modern China, 1937–2008: Towards a Universal Pictorial Language (September 16 through December 5). The show focuses on Western woodcuts, a form adapted by Chinese artists in the 1930s who were looking for a simplified pictorial language that would resonate with the masses.

Hungarian Cultural Center
447 Broadway, SoHo, 212-750-4450
What it is: Clearly, someone at this organization has a sense of humor. Last year, it hosted a year-long “Extremely Hungary” festival, showcasing contemporary Hungarian visual, performance and literary arts. Yes, there was goulash available.
What it does: Quirky events like Hungarian modernist art exhibits and Romanian Revolution documentaries have lured New Yorkers to the center’s sleek space—including Salman Rushdie and Padma Lakshmi, who once stopped by to listen to some Hungarian trash-pop.

Japan Society
333 E. 47th Street, Midtown East, 212-832-1155
What it is: Located in Midtown’s “far east” in the City’s first modern building by a Japanese architect, the society was founded in 1907 but effectively shut down after the Pearl Harbor bombings in 1941 prompted many directors to resign. It resumed operations fully in 1952 under the auspices of John D. Rockefeller III, and has been the City’s leading Japanese cultural center since.
What it does: The center holds six floors devoted to Japanese language instruction, exhibits, film screenings and lectures every year. Among our recent favorites are Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters, an exhibit of works by Manga forebear Utagawa Kuniyoshi, and a panel featuring legendary architect Shigeru Ban, musician and environmentalist Ryuichi Sakamoto and contemporary artist Mariko Mori last March.
What’s next: Fall programming includes The Sound of One Hand, an exhibit of approximately 70 scrolls painted by 17th- and 18th-century Zen artist Hakuin Ekaku (October 1 through January 9), and a one-man comedy show by acclaimed actor Yoshi Oida about a Zen master who tests his students’ levels of enlightenment (October 8 and 9).

Onassis Cultural Center
645 Fifth Avenue, Midtown East, 212-486-4448
What it is: The center acts as the public venue in New York for the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, created by the famous shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis (second husband of Jackie Kennedy) in honor of his son, Alexander. Located in the Olympic Tower, the center features a space for temporary exhibits and programs, as well as an atrium with three site-specific permanent exhibits.
What it does: Step back to the ancient streets of Crete at the center’s many exhibits featuring ancient Greek artifacts—like last year’s post-Byzantine paintings on display—or at one of the many concerts, lectures or film screenings celebrating Hellenic civilization.
What’s next: The center’s next exhibit, Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece (October 5 through January 3) offers viewers a glimpse into the creation of and desire for heroes, whether in literature, mythology or even in real life.

Scandinavia House–The Nordic Center in America
58 Park Avenue, Murray Hill, 212-879-9779
What it is: Scandinavia House opened ten years ago as the headquarters for the American Scandinavia Foundation. It’s also a great place for a Nordic nosh; try Swedish meatballs from Smörgås Chef ($14), a Scandinavian chain restaurant located on the main floor.
What it does: In addition to language classes, which are hosted in partnership with NYU, the center curates three or four exhibits per year and hosts 125 to 150 public programs.
What’s happening: Among the awesomeness in store this fall is New Nordic Cinema (September 29 through December 11), a series of contemporary movies from Norway and Sweden, like Sebbe, about a young boy and his alcoholic, single mother, from Swedish director Babak Najafi. Out of Scandinavia: New Indie Music from the Nordics brings indie acts, like Danish up-and-comer Hannah Schneider and Icelandic group Feldberg, to the center.

For a complete list of the City's cultural centers, visit


related venues/(3)

  1. 1
    Hungarian Cultural Center
    447 Broadway
    Manhattan – SoHo
  2. 2
    Japan Society
    333 E. 47th St.
    Manhattan – Midtown East
    NY 10017
  3. 3
    Scandinavia House: The Nordic Center in America
    58 Park Ave.
    Manhattan – Murray Hill
    NY 10016

check-in date

check-out date