As executive director of the City Parks Foundation, David Rivel has a hand in planning over 1,100 performing arts events to be held in parks this year and has undertaken to bring more programming to low-income neighborhoods. Currently on the organization’s plate is the annual, mostly-free Central Park SummerStage, featuring a diverse slate of performers, ranging from bands like the Brazilian Girls to the writer Amiri Baraka. Rivel talked to the Resident about his efforts to make the city a greener place.—Melissa Swinea
How long has the City Parks Foundation been around?
DR: It was created in 1989 by the Parks Department as a non-profit organization to manage fiscal sponsorship – receiving and managing donations for the city’s parks. A year later, the public began to propose events, suggesting that CPF facilitate these programs in city parks.
When did you become executive director?
DR: In 2001, I was approached by two CPF board members. I was the president of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music and had never heard of the City Parks Foundation. I declined at first, but they continued to solicit me. They convinced me to take the position.
Why were they so intent on propositioning you?
DR: It’s because of my background in the arts, as well as my love for the outdoors. I have a master’s degree in film history and aesthetics. I taught film at Wesleyan University and founded the Wesleyan Film Archives. I ran the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, saving it from impending bankruptcy. So I have a knack for business and planning. Aside from my professional and artistic qualifications, I’m also an amateur golfer and tennis player. This job was made for me.
What are your other professional achievements?
DR: I worked six years at Lincoln Center. Initially, I was the assistant director of strategic planning, then the director of executive projects and ultimately the assistant director of marketing and communications. I was among those who created “Jazz at Lincoln Center.”
Do you love jazz?
DR: I love all forms of art and have a deep appreciation for jazz. In fact, CPF is responsible for reviving the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival. It had been unsuccessful when we were asked to take over. CPF was able to keep it alive. It’s scheduled for late August.
Is the jazz festival the program you like best?
DR: The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival is wonderful because it is consistent with the spirit and unity the City Parks Foundation tries to facilitate within communities. Jazz connects with people internally, and we strive to connect and unite communities through the city parks.
What drives you to perform this service for the city?
DR: Along with my passion for the arts is my love for New York City. I was born in New York Hospital. Though I grew up in the suburbs, I’ve always been drawn to the city. I returned after college. I love the people and communities and know the neighborhoods better than most people.
DR: I work in about 700 city parks. It’s my responsibility to review programs, ensuring they reach people and improve parks.
It isn’t everyday you meet executives who are passionate about fieldwork. You don’t function like the average executive director.
DR: That’s because I’ve been lucky enough to stumble upon a job that I love. I have gotten satisfaction out of all my previous jobs, but this job was made for me.
What’s your personal vision for the City Parks Foundation?
DR: I never do well with questions like these, but I can tell you that I incorporate my understanding of what healthy parks need into my work. Healthy parks need three things: capital spending, maintenance and landscaping – which falls under the Parks Department – and people to love, care and visit. A park fails due to lack of attendance or because it’s utilized negatively – for illegal activity. People need to take ownership of their parks and speak to government about improving them. This is why CPF sponsors “It’s My Park Day.” Twice a year, in fall and spring, volunteers clean, maintain and take responsibility for their parks.
Without reference to plant life, you seem to regard parks almost as living, breathing entities.
DR: They are. Parks are the democratic spaces of the community. This is where people come together, and parks are essential in a city were we live on top of one another.