Vanessa Silberman, Senior Director of Communications & Strategic Initiatives, Levitt Pavilions, based in Los Angeles.
Neglected, crime-infested parks. A dormant downtown. The nation’s largest brownfield. A problematic landfill. What do all of these have in common? They all happen to be public spaces that were transformed into thriving, family-friendly places through Levitt’s pioneering approach to creative placemaking—harnessing the power of free, live music to bring people together year after year and strengthen the social fabric of a community.
As the national nonprofit behind the largest free concert series in America, Levitt Pavilions is deeply committed to creating citywide destinations—places where people of all ages and backgrounds feel welcome. We believe vibrant public places are key to creating strong, healthy communities in our nation’s cities. Yet too often, what was originally envisioned to be a public place, filled with people and amenities, often has the opposite effect due to a lack of resources. Without effective management, ongoing investment or programming, places have the strong potential to turn into dead spaces and attract crime, become eyesores and ultimately make a negative impact on a city’s livability.
What’s more, the fast-paced demands of our daily lives often pull us away from one another and into our own cocoons, hindering any sense of connection and fueling a lack of civic engagement.
Our solution? Create a reason for people to come together. The arts, and live music especially, have always been social connectors. And when that live music is presented for free, is of extremely high caliber, and in a beautiful, outdoor public setting amidst a wide expanse of grassy lawn, people will take time out of their busy schedules to rediscover that space they’d previously avoided.
They’ll come together for the free concert, bring their family and friends, picnic blankets and lawn chairs, and activate the public space, transforming it into a gathering place for that one evening. And when this experience occurs repeatedly—as it does with each Levitt venue, which presents 50+ free concerts every year, that positive sense of place becomes ingrained in the community mindset.
At Levitt, we believe in the power of the arts to transform. Through our signature program of permanent Levitt venues—each of which is managed and programmed by a local Friends of Levitt nonprofit in partnership with the City—more than half a million people experience the joy of Levitt every year, injecting new life into pockets of Los Angeles and Pasadena, Calif.; Arlington, Texas; Bethlehem, Pa.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Westport, Conn.
The ripple effects are impressive, making communities more livable: reducing crime, breaking social and economic barriers, boosting local economies and creating more green spaces. Cities and engaged citizens across the country have caught on to the impact of Levitt, and we’re thrilled by the heightened demand for the Levitt program in additional cities. New pavilions are in the works in Denver and Houston, and we’re in conversations with nearly a dozen other cities.
Seeking to expand the geographic footprint of our impact even more, earlier this summer we launched the Levitt AMP [Your City] Grant Awards, an exciting, new matching grant opportunity that will bring free concerts to 10 small and mid-sized cities across the U.S. every year. Reflecting our commitment that all Levitt projects be community-driven, we opened up the process of selecting the Top 20 finalists to online public voting (happening now through November 30!).
What’s incredible, time and again, is that Levitt fans—Levitteers as we affectionately call them—often speak about how their pavilion provides more than a place for free concerts. Sure, people flock to experience the free music under the stars featuring GRAMMY-winning artists like Booker T. Jones, Quetzal and the North Mississippi All-Stars as well as rising stars like John Fullbright, Nina Diaz and The Dunwells—each Levitt venue presents a wide range of music genres, everything from R&B, country, rock and Latin to jazz, children’s, World and beyond. What strikes me is that they consistently share how the Levitt in their city has become their community destination, a place where everyone belongs.