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The view from New York

Issue 21 | November 2011

Background

Michael Canning. Creative Director, Leo Burnett New York

New York City is home to every type of food ever created. From the countless restaurants that represent every national flag on the globe and ones you've never heard of, to the local icons like bagels, street meat and egg creams - the diversity of New York’s food is only matched by the diversity of its accents.

But New York also offers you another type of diet. which is amongst the healthiest in the world – your creative diet. Like certain foods affect your body in different ways, what you take in creatively is going to have an effect on your creative output also, and the creativity that you can consume in NY on a daily basis is top notch. All creative food groups are represented, from galleries, film, technology, and theatre to music, street art, architecture or general madness. Taking in New York everyday is like a superfood of creative inspiration.

But while these more well known staples are excellent, the best bit is the part that you can’t find in Time Out – the street. Sitting and watching the streets is where the really essential vitamins are .

There’s crack heads, Wall Street bankers, street performers, crazy people, old ladies who are black belts with their walking sticks and generally interesting souls. The sort of people and moments you can’t really make up, they just happen like a brilliantly unchoreographed circus.

I moved from Sydney Australia to New York in late 2010, as part of the team launching Leo Burnett in NYC. One of the first things I noticed here is that everyday you hear people say “You won't believe what I just saw on the subway” or “You won't believe what just happened on the street”. It’s like reality entertainment served up 24/7. And it’s not just people who are new to the city either, even the more hardened New Yorkers like to share their stories, the only caveat being that the longer you live here, the higher your standards become for a story that’s worth telling. Person breakdancing on the train, no. Person breakdancing on top of the train on the J,M,Z line as in Indiana Jones? Maybe.

The thing is that people are always telling great New York stories to friends and colleagues, but the moment they’re told they’re forgotten. We felt this was an opportunity to create a place for people to actually write down their stories to form a record of everyday NY moments as entertainment and a form of inspiration. The result was an idea we recently launched called ‘New York Writes Itself – A production by the people of New York'. It’s a website where New Yorkers are invited to write down their everyday tales on the ‘Script’ at newyorkwritesitself.com. Our thought was that these can then be shared as a source of inspiration for the city’s creative community to use in music, writing, art or whatever they like - basically creativity inspired by the streets.

So far, the stories written range from memories of when people skiied along Broadway in winter to sex tips heard on the subway.

As one of the first pieces inspired by the project, New York Writes Itself is hosting an upcoming exhibition that brings a collection of stories to life called ‘New York Types’ (Art Directors Club New York, Dec 15th 2011 – Jan 5th 2012).

What I find interesting is that New Yorkers have always had the image of being jaded, folks who wouldn’t be fazed if they saw a yellow cab take off and fly to the sun, and to an extent that’s true. But even if they’re not fazed by much, New Yorkers of all levels of jadedness still love the opportunity to tell their stories of living here, and are open to new ways of sharing them when they get the chance.

That’s what I think sets New York apart from most cities, in that as a city famous for attitude, New Yorkers have a real soft spot for how crazily varied the city’s people are, and how much personality and fun they give the place. People might try and nick each others cabs, but when it comes to creativity there’s a sense of community for experiencing or being part of anything ‘New York’ , as if living here is a giant reality show that everyone is playing a part in.

I love a good New York pizza, but at least I feel like my creative cholesterol is under control.

When Aussies Michael Canning, Kieran Antill and Jay Benjamin started up Leo Burnett New York in late 2010, they were startled and inspired by the city’s street culture.

Being creative people, they thought they should create a platform for New Yorkers to be able to tell each other their amazing stories and keep some sort of record of them. These would then feed back as inspiration for creative people in the city to use in their music, theatre, painting, whatever.

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