NEW YORK, NY (April 5, 2019)—The Open Space Institute (OSI) today celebrated the grand opening of the Robert Frederick Smith Center for the Performing Arts at Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park in Harlem. The opening marked the culmination of OSI’s successful design and fundraising efforts to renovate the celebrated performance space, named in recognition of philanthropist Robert Frederick Smith's $1 million donation toward the project.
Smith's gift was the largest contribution to OSI’s capital campaign, launched in partnership with the New York City Regional Parks Commission and the Natural Heritage Trust, which in sum raised nearly $2.8 million in public and private grants and donations. Other major support has come from Lucy R. Waletzky, M.D., the Durst Organization, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation.
Thanks to the funding, the performing arts center now benefits from upgrades such as modernized house lighting and professional sound equipment; new theatrical lighting; a modified stage area; new bleacher seating; and refurbished flooring.
"The Open Space Institute is proud to have played a role in this exciting project to upgrade this cultural performance center and enhance the overall experience for all who use the space to socialize, celebrate, and experience the arts,” said Kim Elliman, OSI president and CEO. “Thanks to Robert Smith and Lucy Rockefeller Waletzky for their leadership and commitment to this project. We are also grateful for the support of the Durst Family, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Parsons Family Foundation, who joined OSI to help make the revitalization of this community centerpiece a reality."
"The performing arts center has always been a treasured part of this neighborhood's cultural fabric. Music and the arts bring people together and strengthen our communities," said Robert Frederick Smith. "Modernizing the center means a lot to me as its impact stretches well beyond its walls, to the lives of all the families and performers who are inspired to come together and share their imagination, talent, and love for Harlem."
In addition to $1.3 million in private support leveraged by OSI and its partners, public support comes from Governor Cuomo's NY Parks 2020 program and grants from the late Assemblyman Denny Farrell, for whom the park was renamed last year, as well as Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and New York City Councilman Mark Levine.
"Denny Farrell's model of service was the essence of good government because it was all about getting things done that make a real difference in people's lives," Governor Cuomo said. "This new performing arts center will do exactly that, enhancing one of the jewels of our state parks system and touching countless lives in the community and beyond. It's a perfect fit for Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park and the New York family is grateful to Robert Frederick Smith for helping make it happen."
"The project will make the center much more welcoming to audience members and boost production values, bringing even more vitality to this beloved area of the park,” said Acting State Parks Supervisor Erik Kulleseid. “I am grateful to Governor Cuomo, Robert Frederick Smith and all the partners for their commitment to the enrichment of Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park."
"It's exciting to see this drab auditorium transformed into a glorious performing arts and community space filled with music, dance, and laughter,” said Lucy Rockefeller Waletzky, chair of the New York State Council of Parks. “I am grateful to Robert F. Smith and all who stepped forward to support this new cultural center, which I am certain will continue to be a lively and joyous place of community activity for generations to come."
Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park has served as West Harlem’s recreational and cultural hub for almost 25 years. The park welcomes more than three million people each year. It serves as a community resource for an area that was once cut off from the Hudson River. Providing a four-season recreational resource for a community that has been traditionally underserved, Riverbank State Park is a pillar of the West Harlem community.
About OSI’s Parks and Access Work
OSI, a nonprofit with broad experience assisting parks, has extensive experience running capital campaigns and leveraging public-private partnerships to upgrade park amenities, creating year-round hubs for park activity.
Successful OSI capital projects include the Nature Center at Letchworth State Park, Thacher Park Center at John Boyd Thacher State Park, the Cultural Center at River Bank State Park, upgrades to the facilities at Fahnestock, Niagara Falls and Jones Beach, OSI's River-to-Ridge Trail in New Paltz, and the upcoming Minnewaska Visitor Center.