A concert at Levitt Pavilion Dayton in Dave Hall Plaza

A concert at Levitt Pavilion Dayton in Dave Hall Plaza

Happy Park and Recreation Month!

This July organizations across the country are celebrating Park and Recreation Month by using the hashtag #OurParkAndRecStory and sharing how green spaces have made their communities stronger, more vibrant and more resilient.

At the Levitt Foundation, ensuring access to green space is an essential part of our mission to foster equitable, thriving and sustainable communities. Through partnerships with nonprofits across the country, we support the activation of underused parks, vacant downtown lots, former brownfields and more to create green spaces where people of all ages and backgrounds can come together to enjoy both the beauty of nature and the power of free, live music through Levitt concerts.

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This summer and fall, Levitt lawns across the country are once again filling with the sounds of free, live music. After a devastating pandemic year that forced us to be apart, Levitt venues and AMP grantees weren’t sure what to expect while planning their concert series, however record-breaking audiences have proven that people are ready to come back together and build community through the power of music. “People are just excited to be back,” said Lisa Wagner, executive director of Levitt Pavilion Dayton. “Greeting one another. Hugging each other. Picking up where they left off in many ways. There has been a real healing experience of what we missed in 2020.”

Healing is exactly what so many of us are needing following the past year. During that challenging time, the Levitt network pivoted to create virtual programming, mobile concerts, pop-up shows and more. These efforts not only helped people feel a sense of connection during a time of great uncertainty and isolation, but also gave artists an opportunity to share their music and brighten otherwise dark and challenging days.

Now that in-person Levitt concerts have returned, read on to learn more about the 2021 Levitt season and how you can experience some of these amazing free concerts, either in-person or virtually. 
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Left to right: Levitt AMP Utica at Kopernik Park in 2019, Bunny Swan performing for Levitt AMP Soldotna in 2019 and 2021, Celloquacious at Levitt AMP Gallup’s 2020 virtual series

Left to right: Levitt AMP Utica at Kopernik Park in 2019, Bunny Swan performing for Levitt AMP Soldotna in 2019 and 2021, Celloquacious at Levitt AMP Gallup’s 2020 virtual series

Levitt is all about embracing the power of free, live music to strengthen the social fabric of communities. In the towns of Gallup, New Mexico, Soldotna, Alaska and Utica, New York, the nonprofits behind their respective Levitt AMP Music Series are each embracing this mission wholeheartedly by encouraging authentic connections with their diverse communities on stage and off, from Navajo Nation tribal members to Eastern European and African refugees to Alaska Natives, creating an inclusive series where all members of their community feel welcome.  

“Diversity is going to look different in every community,” said Shanon Davis, Executive Director of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, the nonprofit behind the Levitt AMP Soldotna Music Series. These Levitt AMP grantees are working closely with their local communities to ensure greater representation that is equitable and culturally responsive. After the tragedies of the past year, particularly for communities of color, we’re heartened to see these Levitt AMP sites work towards healing by celebrating the diversity of their communities. 

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Levitt AMP Berea audience members dancing during a 2018 concert.

Levitt AMP Berea audience members dancing during a 2018 concert.

Many college and university towns grapple with how to bridge the town-gown divide – a phenomenon in which a place that harbors two communities (the university and its student population within a town and local residents who live there full-time) experiences a sociocultural disconnect between these groups of people. While higher educational institutions bring economic growth, diversity and a youthful energy to their surrounding areas, local residents aren’t always accepting of the shifts to their established towns. Today, we’re shining the light on how two college towns – Berea, Ky., and Merced, Calif. –  are balancing the needs of both students and local residents through the Levitt AMP Music Series in order to foster connections, build relationships and create a larger sense of community.

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From left to right, top to bottom. Ann Brusky, Nancy Halverson, Meaghan Singletary and Sharon Yazowski participate in the “Expanding Place Through Adaptive Programming” panel at the Walk/Bike/Places conference.

During last month’s Walk/Bike/Places conference, Levitt Foundation Executive Director Sharon Yazowski moderated an engaging virtual panel with Levitt grantees from Sioux Falls, S.D., Trenton, N.J. and Sheboygan, Wisc., titled “Expanding Place Through Adaptive Programming.” The conversation focused on how these nonprofits continued to build community through the arts during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how their experiences and lessons learned have influenced their programming in 2021 and beyond, expanding their thinking around place, access and the arts. 

“This past year was focused on adaptive programming to continue to connect people with each other to offer comfort, healing, and a sense of togetherness, even while needing to be apart,” Yazowski said. ”Through rethinking their programming these three nonprofits created a sense of place and opportunity for social connection beyond their traditional sites.”

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Warner Bros.

Promo Image from In the Heights. Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

A Timeless Story of Tradition, Hope and Belonging

Lin Manuel Miranda and Jon M. Chu’s 2021 film adaptation of In the Heights is an emotional rollercoaster filled with love, community, and most importantly, infectious music! The story follows two American Latinos: Usnavi (played by Anthony Ramos), an ambitious bodega owner with a dream to move back to the Dominican Republic for a better life, and Nina (played by Leslie Grace), a Stanford student struggling with her identity and the pressure to succeed. Taking place in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, or the “Little Dominican Republic,” Miranda’s songs encapsulate the grit it takes to survive in a place that is so concentrated with tradition and culture, yet often underrepresented and isolated from the rest of the city.

Even with the film’s focus on representation, the movie has faced criticism for its lack of Afro-Latino lead cast members, who are the predominant residents of Washington Heights. Miranda apologized for this oversight shortly after the film’s release a few weeks ago and reminds us that even for a movie with such a strong focus on representation, there is still more work to be done.

Nevertheless, there is much to love about the movie version of In the Heights, starting with its accurate portrayal of the long history of immigration and cultural change that has been brewing in the Manhattan neighborhood for decades. As chronicled by Smithsonian Magazine’s Nili Blanck, Washington Heights was home to Russian, European and Latin American immigrants (mainly Puerto Ricans and Cubans) in the 1950s and ‘60s. It has since vastly changed into a Dominican community. During the latter part of the 20th century, however, Washington Heights became known as a community plagued by crime. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that this neighborhood began rebuilding that initial spark of optimism and potential, which serves as the iconic setting for this movie musical.

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Three Levitt venues embrace Black Pride this June

Left to right: Larmani, Alise King, and Cherisse Scott (Levitt Shell Memphis)

Left to right: Larmani, Alise King, and Cherisse Scott (Levitt Shell Memphis)

This June we celebrate Pride Month, commemorating the beauty and diversity of queer people everywhere. In addition to being a time of celebration, Pride is also a time to reflect, learn about, and acknowledge those throughout history who have advocated for LGBTQ+ communities and advanced their rights. With June also being Black Music Month and the time of Juneteenth, we’re excited to dive into the intersectional history of Pride, and spotlight the POC pioneers as well as musicians who have championed the movement.

But first, be sure to mark your calendar for three intersectional Pride events within the Levitt network. Levitt Pavilion Denver is hosting a live concert on June 18th to kick off Denver’s 2021 Juneteenth Music Festival, headlining Black GRAMMY-winning R&B group 112. This year, the Juneteenth Music Festival collaborates with The Center on Colfax, an LGBTQ+ community center, to produce Denver’s first ever Black Pride. Look forward to events such as The Majestic Melanated Cabaret, featuring drag entertainers of color, a Drag Gospel Brunch, and The Strange Fruit of Black Excellence Ball, celebrating the Black community.

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Commemorating Juneteenth through music, storytelling, and education

Top left: Ranky Tanky, bottom left: Charlton Singleton, bottom right: Soul Rebels

Top left: Ranky Tanky, bottom left: Charlton Singleton, bottom right: Soul Rebels

On June 19, 1865, Black Americans living in Galveston, Texas rejoiced when they learned that the Civil War had ended and slavery had been abolished throughout the United States, over two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. At first called “Jubilee Day,” the day didn’t become known as Juneteenth until nearly a century later after gaining momentum during the Civil Rights Movement. Juneteenth serves as the oldest and most important Black holiday in American history and has since gained considerable recognition beyond the Black community. It is a day to celebrate Black freedom, the continual efforts towards racial justice, and the integral part that Black people had and continue to have in our country. Particularly during the past year, as the death of George Floyd reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality and racism, Juneteenth and the people it represents have taken on greater urgency and more widespread significance.

This week, as a part of the 2021 Juneteenth celebrations happening across the country, we’re proud to share that both permanent Levitt venues in Bethlehem, Dayton, Denver, Los Angeles, Memphis, and Sioux Falls, and Levitt AMP concert sites in Springfield, Ill., and Fort Smith, Ark., are partnering with local organizations and businesses to host concerts and festivals filled with live performances featuring Black artists, including Tank and the Bangas, Ranky Tanky and Henry & The Reggae Rockers among many others, as well as educational activities and historical discussions about Juneteenth. Read below for details on these can’t-miss events celebrating the significance of this day. Additionally, as Juneteenth falls in the same month that celebrates Pride and Black music, we’re excited to see that a number of Levitt venues are embracing intersectional themes and activities to illustrate how music is a unifying force, a way for diverse identities and communities to relate to one another.

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Left to right: BettySoo, Dumbfoundead, Ruby Ibarra, River Run North, Lyrics Born

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, celebrating the significant yet sometimes overlooked role of AAPIs to the fabric of American culture and society. With the recent rise in anti-Asian racism and violence, it’s more important than ever to amplify the diverse AAPI voices, cultures and traditions that have helped shape American culture.

Today on our blog, we’re excited to share a fun new playlist that highlights the contributions of AAPI artists to contemporary music across a wide range of genres, featuring songs from five past Levitt performers like Lyrics Born, Ruby Ibarra and Run River North. Listen to folk, rock, rap, EDM and more from AAPI musicians across the country—scroll down or head over to our Spotify to listen!

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Using Levitt Pavilion Denver as a case study, a new white paper examines the role of community identity, collective memory, shifting perceptions and equitable belonging over time

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What is, and what should be, the role of the arts in communities undergoing change?

A new white paper, Listening to the Music of Community Change: Findings from a Pre/Post Research Study at Levitt Pavilion Denver, examines to what degree the development of a new cultural asset like an outdoor music venue plays a role in per­ceptions of a neighborhood and park over time, using Levitt Pavilion Denver as a case study. The study’s release follows a pandemic-fueled wave of interest in public spaces and offers timely insights for civic leaders, practitioners and funders seeking to build more equitable and thriving public spaces.

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