Ultimate Summer 2016 NYC Arts Guide

Heather Liang

Summertime visitors to NYC can enjoy performance art, new installations, theater, and enough music and dance to keep the entire city moving. The best part? Many of these events take place outdoors. Highlights include the free Shakespeare in the Park, SummerStage concerts and a rooftop commission at the Met. Read on for more.

SummerStage. Photo: Will Steacy


SummerStage used to take place solely in Central Park, but as the event has expanded in scope over the years, it has also spread to all five boroughs. Performances are courtesy of mainstream acts like the Go-Go’s, King Sunny Adé and Ryan Adams, along with up-and-coming and local artists. Additionally, the summerlong celebration features movie screenings, readings by famous authors, kids’ activities, comedy shows and theatrical productions.

Also consider: Brooklyn hosts its own summer treat, Celebrate Brooklyn, which has been bringing free outdoor concerts to the Prospect Park Bandshell for more than 35 years. Another big-time music series that shouldn’t be missed is Lincoln Center Out of Doors. It’s also free, offering performances, spoken-word events, specially commissioned works and family days.

Shakespeare in the Park. Photo: Joseph Moran

Shakespeare in the Park

Nothing quite says “New York City summer” like Shakespeare in the Park. This highly anticipated happening was first staged at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park in 1962 and has been one of the City’s most popular free events ever since., Enjoy an all-female interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew from May 24 to June 26, followed by a production of Troilus and Cressida from July 19 to August 14, both under the direction of Tony winner Daniel Sullivan.

"Dress" (2013–14), by Iris van Herpen. Courtesy, The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Nicholas Alan Cope

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Rooftop Commission

The Met Fifth Avenue makes the most of its spectacular rooftop—with views of Central Park and Midtown Manhattan—by selecting an artist to create a site-specific installation. This year the lucky recipient is Cornelia Parker, a British artist who is known for her large-scale, thought-provoking and sometimes dark works. Her artwork, titled Transitional Object (PsychoBarn), is a model of the house from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 exploration of maternal-attachment issues, Psycho. This is the fourth installment in the annual series; it will be open through October, weather permitting.

Also consider: The Costume Institute’s new Manus x Machina exhibition, another show at the Met, explores how technology influences fashion—particularly when it comes to handmade designs and haute couture—and includes garb from Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent. Mix art and the outdoors at Staten Island’s Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, which has the Chinese Scholar’s Garden, the Secret Garden maze, the beautiful White Garden and Rose Garden, and the brand-new Commons Galleries, created to expand the center’s support of local artists.

Mostly Mozart Festival

Since 1966, Lincoln Center has honored the works of Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with this monthlong festival. Enjoy indoor performances from the in-house orchestra, who welcome guest musicians and dancers. In commemoration of the festival’s 50th anniversary, 50 premieres will take place across Lincoln Center’s campus throughout the month.

Also consider: Each summer the Metropolitan Opera treats music lovers to free screenings of Met performances in Lincoln Center Plaza as part of its Summer HD Festival. The event takes place evenings from late August through early September.

Bronx Zoo. Photo: Christopher Postlewaite

Bronx Zoo Summer Evenings

Members of the Bronx Zoo can enjoy two evenings of special access to exhibitions, entertainment, live performances and conversations with animal keepers about caring for wildlife. Zoo exhibitions like the Congo Gorilla Forest, Tiger Mountain and the Butterfly Garden will be open late for guests to get a more intimate view while they enjoy the sounds of Annie and the Natural Wonder Band at the Dancing Crane Pavilion.

Also consider: There are other ways to enjoy the natural world this summer. Consider the Madagascar! exhibition at the Bronx Zoo, where six lemur species from the African island—including the popular Coquerel’s sifaka—jump and swing from tree branches in a massive habitat that was created to simulate their home. The zoo has recently adopted three new baby lemurs, which made their debut a short time ago. Visit the New York Aquarium in Coney Island for more summer evening fun: its Summer Fireworks event features a free Aquatheater show and fireworks on the beach on Friday nights.

"Dirty Windows Series #19" (1994), by Merry Alpern. Collections of ICP © Merry Alpern

Art AIDS America

The Bronx Museum of the Arts presents this exhibition that traces the “deep and ongoing influence” the AIDS crisis in America has had on our art and culture. The exhibition will include 125 works in various media dated from 1981 to the present from artists such as Bronx locals Willie Cole and Whitfield Lovell, along with Martin Wong, Annie Leibovitz, Derek Jackson and Robert Mapplethorpe. The exhibition serves to illustrate how our culture has responded to the disease over the years and how it altered our history.

Also consider: Fine-art-photography lovers will be happy to learn that the International Center of Photography has found a new home at 250 Bowery, after shuttering its Midtown location in 2015. The new space opens on June 23 with an exhibition titled Public, Private, Secret, featuring works by art-world superstars like Nan Goldin, Andy Warhol and Cindy Sherman.

Midsummer Night Swing. Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Midsummer Night Swing

Strap on your best shoes and head to Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park for some good old-fashioned dancing fun at Midsummer Night Swing. Each night kicks off with dance lessons (in styles like tango, foxtrot, salsa and hustle), followed by two music sets. Performers play swing, rock ’n’ roll, jazz and big band to help you move your feet. July 9 is a family-friendly day on which kids can learn some moves too.

Also consider: Warm Up at MoMA PS1—Long Island City’s long-running outdoor music series—returns for its 20th year of Saturday afternoon DJ shindigs and musical performances. The daytime dance party takes place in MoMA PS1’s courtyard and features the best in experimental live music and sound across a broad range of genres. Performers are selected by a curatorial committee; stay tuned for details about this year’s lineup.


American Ballet Theatre

The American Ballet Theatre continues its spring residency at the Metropolitan Opera house partway into the summer. In June, ballet fans can see performances of Le Corsaire, The Golden Cockerel, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet and The Sleeping Beauty, which carries over into early July and closes out the season for the company.

Also consider: Downtown’s Joyce Theater features a series of companies this summer, including RIOULT Dance NY (with Women on the Edge, an antiwar performance piece) and Philadelphia’s BalletX (one of whose works is set to music by Amy Winehouse).