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Wintertime is show time in the Big Apple

Snow birds may flock to Florida or other points south to escape winter's chill, but culture connoisseurs wrap up tight and head for Manhattan.

Yes, autumn in New York conjures colorful foliage in Central Park and even a famous song — Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra sang of "glittering crowds and shimmering clouds" — but winter brings its own magic, especially for arts denizens.

The city tallied a record 48.7 million visitors in 2010 and while the winter can be slower, many consider it high season here for lovers of music, dance, theater and museums, especially given the city's famous plethora of options.

"When I take groups to New York, many people want theater, theater, and more theater," says Cash Hester of Concepts by Cash, a Baltimore firm that stages arts events, including upscale day trips to see hot shows. "But what's so rich is, there's just so much to see, and it's always exciting. You can do what's familiar like Broadway, the art galleries in Chelsea, or go off the beaten track and still find quality."

Now that the holiday rush is over, many venues are offering an array of specials and packages, tourism officials say.

"January and February are fantastic times to visit the city. We've launched several programs including a new Broadway Week with discounts," says Christopher C. Heywood, a spokesman for NYC & Co., the city's official tourism arm. "There's a lot of hotel development that has taken place in the city, and plenty of new openings. There's also Restaurant Week and other deals galore."

So whether you fancy the neon lights of Broadway, have a yen for operatic arias at the Met, or want to hop the A train to Harlem to experience its continuing renaissance, here are a few fun ways to get your winter arts fix in the Big Apple.

Theater

Broadway gleams ever bright for those who love its lullabies. While shows like the Tony-nominated "FELA!" have recently closed, and the official premiere of "Spider-Man" has been delayed until March after a series of well-publicized mishaps, the show goes on otherwise. "Shows are changing a lot this month. Some are closing, some are opening," says Heywood of NYC & Co.

New Broadway shows include "Ghetto Klown," with actor John Leguizamo, and "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo," with Robin Williams playing the lead role as a tiger in captivity narrating a complex tale involving two Marines, war and more.

The musicals "Wicked," "Jersey Boys" and "The Lion King" all continue. And there's now more time to see big-name actors like James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave perform in dramas like "Driving Miss Daisy," extended by popular demand through April.

There's also a special deal for Broadway fans — the first-ever Broadway Week, Jan. 24 to Feb.10, when two-for-one tickets go on sale for 18 popular shows.

Another promotion, the third annual On the House, an off-Broadway program that offers two-for-one tickets to more than 30 off-Broadway performances, begins Jan. 24 and continues to Feb.13. An off-Broadway theater typically has 100 to 499 seats, offering an intimate setting for theatergoers. Also, for the first time, On the House participants who show their off-Broadway ticket stub will receive two-for-one drink specials at more than a dozen city restaurants.

Modern art

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the American Folk Museum to the New Museum on the Lower East Side and dozens in between, museums help define New York's art scene. Paying homage in brilliant fashion to modern art, of course, is the Museum of Modern Art, where beginning in February, Picasso arrives.

"Picasso: Guitars 1912–1914" will focus on Pablo Picasso's cardboard and sheet-metal Guitar sculptures cobbled together from cardboard, paper, string and wire — materials he cut, folded, threaded and glued — and their role in the famed master's career.

In the early 1970s, Picasso donated some of these works to MoMA, and they were recently discovered in storage. The exhibition will feature some 70 collages, constructions, drawings, mixed-media paintings and photographs assembled from more than 30 public and private collections worldwide.

There's also buzz aplenty right now in New York and Baltimore about "The Global Africa Project" at the Museum of Arts and Design, known as MAD. The show is co-curated by MICA's Leslie King-Hammond, who directs its Center for Race and Culture.

The sweeping — it encompasses four floors — exhibit uses furniture, architecture, textiles, fashion, jewelry, ceramics and basketry, as well as photography, painting, sculpture and installations to explore the broad spectrum of contemporary African art, design and craft worldwide. It features the work of more than 100 artists working in the U.S., Africa, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.

"No longer are these artists viewed as part of the periphery of the mainstream art world," says King-Hammond, who first conceived of the project decades ago along with friend and co-curator Lowery Stokes Sims of MAD. "This work redefines a new center of creativity and innovation for the 21st century."

Lincoln Center

After some five decades, Lincoln Center is not merely considered one of the world's premier performing arts venues, the 16-acre complex on Manhattan's Upper West Side is also the busiest.

Think a dizzying array of goodies for the culturally inclined: opera, symphonic and chamber music, theater, dance, film and arts education.

The glittering venue, with a fountain that dances in the moonlight, boasts a dozen resident organizations ranging from Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis (Baltimore native Cyrus Chestnut often performs, too) to the Juilliard School to the New York City Ballet. The center also includes the Metropolitan Opera, where famed soprano Renee Fleming and the great Placido Domingo will both perform this season.

Altogether, Lincoln Center will welcome some five million visitors annually. Both the Grand Stairs on Columbus Avenue and the 65th Street stairs regularly display "Welcome" in some 325 languages, reflecting the vast variety of those who visit the center.

For the budget-conscious, you can't beat what's known as Target Free Thursdays at the gorgeous new David Rubenstein Atrium. The range of performances includes a postmodern variety show and a contemporary world-soul-funk opera.

Music and dance

The birthplace of cool and haven for modern dance is still hip. Beyond midtown Manhattan, Harlem continues to beckon travelers with its own brand of cultural fabulousness and diversity. Aloft Harlem began taking reservations last fall, the first hotel from a major brand (the same folks behind the Sheraton and W) to open in the neighborhood in a century.

From the Studio Museum of Harlem, where the works of artists of color are beautifully celebrated, to the Dance Theatre of Harlem, founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell to break color barriers in the dance world. Or the Museo del Barrio, which pays homage to the area's large Puerto Rican and Latino communities.

Meantime, celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, who has appeared several times on "Top Chef," Bravo's reality TV show, recently opened Red Rooster Harlem, with delectable American fusion cuisine. The place is hot — packed with celebrities, locals and students. Reservations require some lead time, but the delectable fare and top-notch service are well worth it.

The latest from the Dance Theatre of Harlem Ensemble (the main company is currently on hiatus) are its Sunday Matinees, performances that take place in afternoons on the second Sunday of each month. Each matinee is followed by a Meet-the-Artist reception — good news for Baltimore fans who may spy some of the company's locally trained dancers and administrators.

Also, dance enthusiasts don't want to skip another company that, while not technically in Harlem, is known for its diversity and skill — Alvin Ailey. It, too, boasts multiple members trained at Baltimore's School for the Arts, Towson University and other local schools. The group is on tour but the dance company's home, the Ailey Citigroup Theater, offers dance and fitness programs from the Ailey Extension. The venue is the nation's largest building dedicated to dance, with a theater and a dozen studios.

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