by Elena Oumano
The pockets of lustrous green that are our parks these days put the lie to the notion of summer drudgery in the city, especially when we can visit Central Park or stroll to a neighborhood patch where the City Parks Foundation (CPF) has distilled a season’s worth of international music and other arts performances for our entertainment, almost all for free. There are no culture clashes, just delicious mash-ups that mirror and enhance New York City’s globe-spanning identity through festivals like SummerStage and SummerStage Kids, the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival and youth puppet programs produced at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre and its touring component, the CityParks PuppetMobile.
Since January 2008, when James Burke, former bassist for post-punk band Idle, took over as CPF’s director of arts and cultural programs, the organization’s reach has stretched even further—to 18 parks and all five boroughs—increased indie rock and comedy presentations and even commissioned original dance and theater pieces.
In a talk with CityArts just before a raucous night of stand-up by The Daily Show comics on the main stage attended by over 4,000 fans (with about 650 perched on the boulders outside the venue), Burke discussed how the largest promoter of free entertainment in the city (as well as sports, education and outreach programs) operates, along with the little-known fact that CPF is not funded by New York City’s Parks Department.
“That’s the biggest misconception about SummerStage,” explains Burke. “Using the parks is a great perk, but we’re totally independent, a not-for-profit. In a good year, we’ll get a contribution from the City Council, which we appreciate, and individual council members help us fund programs. Our relationship with the Parks Department is a great example of a progressive public-nonprofit partnership, but we raise all our own funds.”
CPF’s mission, Burke says, is “to program for all the different constituents of New York City. We meet with representatives from the communities so we get grassroots action. That comes with expectations. But we want feedback, in case we’re not up to speed on a new community moving into the neighborhood. Our goal is to please all of the people all of the time.”
In that collaborative spirit, Burke has co-founded the New York Music Presenters & Festivals forum. “Obviously there are other great festivals performing works in New York City,” he says, “and we’re in constant contact with our colleagues. Every quarter, the producers and programmers for all the big festivals and smaller venues get together to share information and practices. There’s always friendly competition, but we go to the same conferences and we want to make sure we’re not programming West African music on the same day.
“Then there are other issues of programming—visas, taxes and fundraising—that are a lot of work, so guest speakers address the latest developments in those areas. It’s all in service of bringing people together in a spirit of celebration, connecting them to their parks and, hopefully, exposing them to music or another art they love but can’t afford to see or may not know but will come to love.”
Check www.summerstage.org for performance schedules. Donate to CPF by texting the word “nuts” to 52000
Tags: Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, City Parks Foundation, CityParks PuppetMobile, Idle, James Burke, New York Music Presenters & Festivals forum, summerstage, Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, the daily show
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