Loving NYC: City Parks Foundation Celebrates New York’s Heritage

6.18.22 SummerStage AussieBBQ CentralPark IanLaidlaw
And It’s Free? Aussie BBQ performs in Central Park. Photo by Ian Laidlaw / Courtesy City Parks Foundation

Erika Elliott and Heather Lubov claim their jobs with City Parks Foundation and SummerStage are the best a person could have. Throughout the summer season, they’ll pull artists from across the globe, as well as local talent, and throw free concerts in some of the most famous parks in North America. More than just Central Park, those across all five boroughs can see a free show. 

They feel that their jobs are an essential part of keeping New York City beating as people continue to recover from COVID-19. Mentally, physically and economically, the world has not yet entirely gotten back on its feet. By offering free shows throughout the parks, with arts, music, dance and more available for passersby, new life and hope returns to one of the cities most affected by the shutdowns enforced due to public health orders. 

Elliott and Lubov have been doing this for some 20-plus years, and by now, they are pros. Finding artists from across the world and bringing them into the city is perhaps easier for them than it is for most, and with New York’s desperate need for something to fully announce its return, there were no two women better prepared for the job.

“Last year was our big comeback because we presented shows not only in Central Park, but all around New York City in neighborhood parks across all five boroughs,” Elliott, City Parks Foundation’s Executive Artistic Director, tells Pollstar. “Last year was the first year we were really able to reach back in and be in all the communities. Since that’s so much at the core of who we are as a festival and part of our mission is to make arts and culture accessible, that was a big deal for us to return to do that work. It was a great year, great turnout. We were just so happy to be back doing what we love. I think that’s the biggest thing.” 

Lubov, City Parks Foundation’s Executive Director, remembers those joyous moments from last year. She thinks of the smiling faces in the crowd when reflecting on those early summer days, and emphasizes the community that gets created by those in attendance. After years of stops and starts, Lubov is grateful they were finally able to return.

“It sounds sort of frivolous, but it’s not,” Lubov says. “Being together and experiencing a live performance, being able to forget everything that happened and focus on the music and being with other people. It felt really special.”

This year marks a special celebration for New York City’s parks as hip-hop, a culture that originated in the Bronx, commemorates its 50th anniversary. Those early days of hip-hop saw locals spending their days in the parks, attending block parties, painting graffiti, breakdancing, beatboxing, DJing and rapping with their groups of friends. Both Elliott and Lubov understand their responsibility in upholding the genre’s legacy while celebrating its milestone anniversary. 

Throughout the foundation’s history, hip-hop is an essential genre on display and this year serves as no exception. All pillars of hip-hop will be upheld.

“I feel particularly proud of our festival and our legacy connecting hip-hop, a genre that started in New York City Parks,” Elliot says. “Connecting artists and that genre in the city parks, it’s been the center of my work for the 20 years I’ve been with the organization. I feel really proud. We’re uniquely positioned to celebrate this art form like almost no one else.”

She shares that graffiti artists in residence will appear throughout the parks over the course of the summer, as well as dancers in residence and uplifting and honoring the DJs. 

“We’re celebrating all the pillars of hip-hop in a really intentional way,” Elliott says. “We’re not just putting on hip-hop concerts, we’re actually celebrating the culture and the tenants of it.”

Lubov wants to highlight the ways in which hip-hop has gone global and influenced the world. “We’re trying to show the impact hip-hop has had all over the performing arts,” she says. 

International acts also make their big return to City Parks Foundation’s summer festivals this year. Partnerships with the French Cultural Service Office, the Australian Music Export Office and the Taiwanese government will bring in artists.

“This is a real return for international artists,” Elliott says. “We had some last year, but it’s something I’m really excited about. Welcoming back all our international artists in a big way and celebrating those communities and those partnerships.”