Monique Martin: SummerStage


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Edited by Amos White V for THE ARTISTS FORUM, Inc
Copyright 2012:
The Artists Forum, Inc. – All Rights Reserved

5 out of 5 stars


NEW YORK, NY (Friday, August 3, 2012) Monique Martin spent last Saturday morning in her office. SummerStage’s Director of Family Programming was tying up some loose ends she couldn’t take care of during the week when, as she says, “there’s 500 shows going on.” Luckily, she made some time in her busy schedule to talk with us about working for NYC’s largest provider of free summer entertainment.

LH: How would you describe the mission of SummerStage?

MM: To engage people in their parks, simply. SummerStage provides performing arts for free in all five boroughs. People in their local communities get stellar performing arts that they may not otherwise get access to, in their front yard. The Central Park branch is obviously the biggest one, and there you get a lot of tourists, New Yorkers new to New York. We’re able to get artists there that we might not be able to get otherwise.

But in 2011, for our 25th anniversary, we connected SummerStage with our citywide program. We thought, “Everything needs to be under the same brand, because we really don’t like the separation of Central Park being this golden, shiny, adored child and the City Parks program not being considered the same caliber.” We wanted to connect the community. In Bed-Stuy, many people work in the city and they don’t know that SummerStage in Central Park is the same organization that does concerts in Von King Park. It also raises the profile for artists. Of course everyone wants to perform at SummerStage and a lot of the time they think, “Oh, I don’t want to perform on that little stage in Queens.” So we invested in a mobile stage where we can do full dance and full theater. We want our artists to be as excited as our audience.

When you perform at our citywide programs, you’re really connecting with the people of New York, and that’s what every artist wants to do. The heart of our mission is to bring this to the communities that have limited access. 

Communities are changing through gentrification and immigrants, and demographics are shifting and expanding. You can see that with Williamsburg, the same with Harlem and Bed-Stuy. All of these communities are changing. We look at this as an opportunity for us to take some chances with the artists that we bring. We want to bring something unexpected to the community that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise. We presented Deertick in Red Hook. When you present Deertick, you’re like, “Where did all these crunchy granola types come from?” We get a little tiny pushback from the old guard that says, “Hey what’s this? We want R&B and soul” and we give that as well. We love that as well, but we also want to break a few molds. Sometimes we can get into a restricted groove of “this is it, this is what this community wants.” 

//picx Monique Martin takes the mic. Photo courtesy of Monique Martin 

LH: What are the main duties of your position?

MM: I look at the responsibility as expanding and deepening how we think about programming for youth and families in this country. Part of how I see my role is really looking beyond presenting artists to engaging communities. It has been my experience that people want to participate, and when you have a level of participation you’re more likely to be committed to the organization and the artist than just being a spectator. I also look through an international lens. We live in a global city, so the programming I’m interested in has a global palette to it.

What’s relevant to youth now? With the Internet, they are super savvy and sophisticated so programming that’s presented to youth now has to match that sophistication. At the same time, they’re still children, so there’s still innocence there and imagination that I think has been dulled by the constant information on the internet. I ask myself how I can bring some surprise and mystery in there, where they go “WOW! How did they do that?” So I look for that when I’m doing my programming, someone who can do that to these jaded kids.

LH: What drew you to the job? [Before Summerstage, Martin was mainly a producer.]

MM: I was a fan and consumer of Summerstage, and the former director of programming was and is a person that I definitely admired and looked up to. I was at a party, and she was there. I just asked her, “When are we going to work together?” There was a job available, and two weeks later I was hired. I still get to freelance produce outside of Summerstage. I get to do probably 2-3 small things per year.

LH: What have been some of your favorite SummerStage performances?

MM: My new passion is contemporary circus. It has that wonder and surprise. It also has physicality, so you know that this artist who is doing a one-handed handstand on a piece of wood, even if you have no idea what it takes, you can just look at their body and know that they have to put some work into that. This generation of youth is growing up in a culture of little effort for a lot of reward. With reality TV, they think, “I don’t really want to work at it but I want to be famous.” Contemporary circus has technique and athleticism, but there’s still goofy wonder.

I also enjoy the big commercial artists like Childish Gambino, or Amadou and Mariam, a blind couple from Mali who are just phenomenal artists!

SummerStage continues through August 24th. Check for more details on events in your area of the city.

//picx => Brasil Summerfest on 7/21/2012 in Central Park. Photo Courtesy of Merissa Blitz

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo / SMOD / Bibi Tanga & The Selenites / Chief Boima on 7/22/2012 in Central Park. Photo courtesy of Mary Peters

//picx =>Orchestre Poly-Rythmo / SMOD / Bibi Tanga & The Selenites / Chief Boima on 7/22/2012 in Central Park. Photo courtesy of Mary Peters

//picx => Brooklyn Family Day 2012. Photo courtesy of Alan Roche

//picx => The Upright Citizens Brigade Presents the All-Stars of Improv on 7/17/2012 in Central Park. Photo Courtesy of Michael Seto

//picx => Norah Jones on July 3, 2012 in Central Park. Photo Courtesy of Merissa Blitz

Monique Martin. Photo courtesy of Alan Roche 


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