Transforming downtown all summer long


BY Nikki Dowling

For many New Yorkers, concerts, plays, art exhibits and dance performances are rare treats reserved for times when people have a little extra cash. But all of the above will be readily available from June 22 to August 19 when River to River, New York City’s largest free summer arts festival, takes over Downtown Manhattan once again.

Founded in 2002, River to River provides free music, dance, film, art, culture and special events for all ages. For years, numerous arts groups have been providing free programming during the summer months; River to River helped brand the neighborhood and pull together all of the events and organizations under one moniker.

The event lineup was announced last week and includes musicians like Duncan Sheik and Burning Spear, and unique events like the Bang on a Can Marathon.

The 9th annual River to River Festival kicks off on June 22 and will take place at ten venues stretching from Chambers St. to the southernmost tip of Manhattan, and from river to river. Event organizers are expecting over 100,000 people.

“I think that the River to River Festival has really…transformed the Wall St. community, to really put it on the map as a destination,” Robin Schatell, executive director of the River to River Festival, said. “There’s a 24/7 community down here…it’s not just a place you go to see the statue of liberty or visit historical sites but there’s also this life. Downtown is a community, it’s a destination. It’s a great part of New York.”

River to River is organized with the help of partners like the Lower Manhattan Cultural Center, Battery Park City Authority, arts, World Financial Center, the Seaport, the Port Authority of NY & NJ and the Alliance for Downtown New York.

But like many free events, River to River relies on private and public funding, and in times of economic hardship money isn’t always easy to come by. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) provided $2.2 million in funding to the festival from 2002 to 2009. This year, things have changed.

“That pool of money isn’t available anymore at all,” Schatell said. “We’re not getting money from LMDC. They’re not a sponsor. They were giving us money last year but that money was to community downtown block grants to help with revitalization. They’re no longer one of our sponsors.” 

The grants River to River received from LMDC were for organizations helping to rebuild and revitalize Downtown Manhattan after the September 11 attacks. Money is still available for this cause but currently unavailable for distribution.

“We still have some remaining cultural money but we haven’t finalized a process for groups to seek that money as of yet,” Errol Cockfield, LMDC spokesperson, said. “We’re contemplating another round of funding but there hasn’t been a final sign-off on that.”

Despite money troubles, fans of this outdoor summer festival can be certain that the event isn’t going anywhere.

“Plans are already underway for 2011,” Patrick Kowalczyk, spokesperson for River to River Festival, said.  

“Next year is the 10th anniversary – we’re really excited about that,” Schatell said. “We’re in the planning stages for next year. We’re going to continue to move this festival forward and continue to present and showcase the same kind of arts.”

Event organizers think this year will be better than ever. The festival has undergone important changes that are designed to better reflect the diverse Downtown community.

“I think that the festival is changing in that it’s got to reflect the people around it,” Schatell said. “There’s more families moving Downtown so we are providing the kinds of performances that would address that population…There are people living down here, not just working or visiting so that has helped change the festival…I think that we’ve really built an incredible following and the audiences have just grown.”  

This year’s River to River Festival will focus on family-friendly events, such as The Battery 4th of July Concert and Family Festival, which will feature stilt walkers, Broadway show tunes and jugglers. On June 26, children will flock to Lower Manhattan for Children’s Day at the Seaport which culminates with fireworks and live performances by The Apples in Stereo accompanied by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus.

The River to River Festival was originally established to revitalize Lower Manhattan after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Event organizers feel it has done that and beyond.

“The eyes of New York City’s arts scene are drawn to Lower Manhattan and the River to River Festival every summer,” Elizabeth Berger, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, said. “Since it was founded in 2002, the Festival’s enduring popularity has helped Lower Manhattan live up to its potential as a 24/7 neighborhood.”

River to River 2010 will include numerous original events. Organizers are excited about choreographer Paul-Andre Fortier who will perform a 30-minute dance in front of One New York Plaza at the same time every day for 30 consecutive days – rain or shine.

Festival goers can also head to Wagner Park for views of the Statue of Liberty and Latin music by Conjunto Imagen, Tony Vega and his Orchestra and more. Movie lovers and Broadway fans will enjoy “Movie Nights on the Elevated Acre,” which will showcase classic New York features paired with indie shorts.

Movies will be screened on an open-air rooftop plaza overlooking the East River. The lineup includes four films united around the “Broadway2Battery” theme – “Broadway Danny Rose,” “Auntie Mame,” “The Country Girl” and “The Muppets Take Manhattan.”

“To be able to provide an eclectic mix of artists from all genres for free is really a great gift to the city of New York,” Schatell said, “For people to come down and to have incredible times hearing and seeing world-class performers is really a treat and I’m proud to be part of that.”


For more information about the festival and the lineup, visit www.rivertorivernyc.com.