Cultivating The City’s green Spaces

| 07 Jun 2016 | 12:11

As a native New Yorker, Heather Lubov has always understood what parks mean to our city. “Having green space, for me at least, calmed my mind down. Whether you choose to see a concert, which is a loud and boisterous activity, or to sit quietly and relax, there are enormous benefits, both physical and mental, to public parks,” she said.

A graduate of Columbia University, Lubov earned her master’s in public administration at New York University, and said her decision to stay in New York for college was “very intentional” since she could not imagine living anywhere else. Her commitment to the city is apparent from her resume, which includes positions at The Partnership for the Homeless, The New York Public Library and the Park Avenue Armory.

Now, as the executive director of the City Parks Foundation, Lubov oversees all the arts, sports, environmental education and community development programs in 300 parks throughout the five boroughs. Their iconic event, SummerStage, which is the largest free performing arts festival in New York, is already underway and in its 31st year of providing a diverse and eclectic outdoor musical experience to audiences throughout the city.

You’ve worked at some iconic nonprofits throughout the city. Did you always know that would be your career path?No, not at all. I fell into this. I actually thought that after college I would go into publishing. I ended up working for six months doing graphic design and decided that I hated it and it had no meaning to me whatsoever. And that’s when I went back to the employment office in college and found a job listing at The Partnership for the Homeless, which really did have a lot of meaning for me. And I spent three years as a program assistant, but really what I ended up doing was writing grant proposals and reports for the program that I was working in within the organization. So I learned a huge amount about fundraising and grant writing. The thing that is really meaningful is I got to respond to a proposal from the city to create a drop-in center for homeless men that still exists on 23rd Street called Peter’s Place. I wrote the project plan to create it, which was just totally cool. That to me, had an impact on New York whereas what I was doing in graphic design did not. I did that for three years and then moved to The New York Public Library where I spent 14 years. And then I wanted to do something very different, so switched to the Park Avenue Armory, which was the complete opposite because it was a startup organization, and then did that for six years. And then I landed at City Parks Foundation. I’ve been a SummerStage audience member when it started, so it’s the perfect place for me.

What does your job entail? Is there a typical day there for you?The City Parks Foundation does four different things. We do arts, sports, environmental education and community development. But the common thread is that everything we do is meant to bring people out into their local neighborhood parks. So if there is a typical day, it’s really thinking about what we should be programming in a specific park and how we are serving each neighborhood we’re in. We’re in 300 different parks, so we’re literally all over the city. As executive director, I think a lot about how we are marketing what we are doing in the different communities we are in. And of course, every community in New York is different and every marketing strategy is different. I think a lot about fundraising and making sure we have enough money to do all of the things that we need to do. I work really closely with the Parks Department because of course, we’re in parks. We’re the Parks Department’s largest private programming partner. So everything we do is possible because of our relationship with them.

What are some initiatives you’ve launched since you’ve been at the City Parks Foundation?One of the things I’ve spent a lot of time on is thinking about marketing. It’s thinking about how we’re communicating our message to New Yorkers. I think the name SummerStage, which is one of our brands, is very recognizable, but I don’t know that the name City Parks Foundation is necessarily recognizable. So I’ve spent a lot of time on press and PR and changing the way that we market, particularly SummerStage, as an arts organization. We are the largest free performing arts festival in New York, but I don’t know that a lot of people recognize that either. So I spend a lot of time doing that and thinking about SummerStage outside of Central Park, because we actually do more concerts outside of Central Park then we do inside. So building up the staffing for the shows outside of Central Park and improving the audience experience there so that no matter where you’re seeing a show, it’s still an incredibly wonderful experience.

How much work goes into planning SummerStage? When do you start the process? How do you find the performers?We start now for next year, so it’s a year-round process. We have a team of curators who select the artists. We have a programming staff of about four who do that. And they spend their time, some traveling around the world, to make sure that they know who is the newest, coolest, hottest star of whatever country. Because our job is really to pick artists who represent the diversity of New York’s population.

Tell us how you’re gearing up for summer with the other programs you offer, such as Learning Gardens, where children get instruction from CPF’s horticulturists and environmental scientists.I can’t pick a favorite, but if I had to pick one, Learning Gardens would be up there. We do free sports programs at about 70 parks around the city. Registration is now up on our website, so parents can register their kids for our sports programs. Whether it’s tennis, golf, track and field or soccer, we provide all the equipment free of charge. So the lessons and the equipment is free. It will start the minute school ends, on July 5th. Our Learning Gardens and our other environmental education programs, the same thing. Parents can go online and register their kids. And if their kids are part of camp groups and community-based organizations, those groups are also able to register for some of the spots. And, of course, year round we do community development work, so there are always projects in parks where volunteers can come out on a weekend and do a park clean up or paint benches or plant and pull out weeds. So we always have volunteer work going on in parks all over the city.

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