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The Cultural Elite

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Believe it or not, it was Dan Quayle (a Bush VP who, in retrospect, looks pretty good) who first publicized the term “cultural elite” to describe those people, primarily in New York and Los Angeles, who create the images and language and music that drive our culture forward. Quayle said it with a sneer and meant it as an insult. But we never took it as such—in fact, culture is the city’s most important asset. To be a member of its elite is an honor.

It’s in that spirit that New York is raising the curtain on a Pan-cultural list of awards celebrating the best of the arts this year. Here are the actors and architects and bands and directors and writers and gallerists and painters and producers who’ve shone brightest in the city’s artistic firmament in 2005—not quite a thousand points of light, but who’s counting—and who may show the culture the way in the future.

In awarding our prizes, we stuck to logical categories but also sought to collapse some tired distinctions. (There’s not a Best Broadway Play and a Best Off Broadway Play. There’s just Best Play.) We took particular note of those in New York’s thriving culture industry whose influences were especially felt this year. And whenever possible, we went out of our way to salute new or emerging talent. Elitism in the service of culture is no vice—but it requires a constant stream of brave people willing to step up and risk ridicule (yes, New Yorkers, too, know how to sneer) in their pursuit of the joke, the beat, the line that makes you gasp. Let the second-guessing begin.


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