Riverdale gets culture injection through summer concert series

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Under the comfort of a big tree and a summer breeze, jazz group Ginetta’s Vendetta perform for an intimate crowd at the Amalgamated Train Park seeking only one thing: audience enjoyment.

Rows of chairs — a mix of those provided by the makeshift concert space along with some brought by listeners themselves — filled the center of the park, as others sat along benches to catch a glimpse of the action. The audience swayed back and forth to the relaxing jazz while the band’s saxophonist, bassist, and drummer all mirrored the same calm, cool, and collected attitude.

The July 18 concert was the first of seven free summer concerts in the northwest Bronx this summer arranged by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and the Bronx Council on the Arts. And with six more concerts to go, this collaboration is far from over.

Planning the event is a team effort. Early on in the year, Dinowitz’s office reaches out to the council to start work on the concert series by first figuring out how to reconnect with groups they’ve worked with in the past, creating new relationships with artists they pick, and figuring out what kinds of music will be a good fit for each venue secured.

“Music is so segmented,” Dinowitz said, “but I think it’s important for people to be exposed to a variety of music.”

The arts council is based in Morris Park, but the concert series lets the organization reach out to neighboring communities like the northwest Bronx, said Charlie Vazquez, the new deputy director of the Bronx Council on the Arts.

“This is the perfect way for us to meet people during the better weather months of the year in a live family-friendly setting,” Vazquez said.

But concerts like this cost money. That’s where Dinowitz comes in, securing the arts council a $25,000 grant that lets these musical performances take place free of charge for its audience.

“I think it’s important to have wholesome, enjoyable events in our neighborhood for anybody and everybody to enjoy them,” Dinowitz said.

Vazquez grew up in the Bronx, a borough he said shows interest in the arts, but where it’s not necessarily as widely discussed.

“Even though we don’t have as many arts and culture venues as other parts of the city, it doesn’t mean that there’s a lack of interest,” he said. “The perception is that there’s not a lot of arts and culture happenings or events happening in the Bronx, but sometimes there are, and people don’t hear about them.” 

According to a new study from the city’s cultural affairs department, that lack of knowledge is rampant. The organization spoke to 200,000 residents about the current state of cultural affairs and how to improve it. According to one of their surveys, 75 percent of New Yorkers said they would participate in more cultural activities if they were advertised better. 

One of their first strategic plans over the next year is to increase support for lower income communities. The Bronx Council on the Arts, Vazquez said, will work with the government to bring more to places like the northwest Bronx over the next year.

“Hopefully next summer, we can do two different concert series, or we’ll have funding to have more concerts,” Vazquez said. “It’s not going unnoticed by the city government.”

In the meantime, Vazquez is looking forward to attending the rest of the concert series this summer.

“I think that in this day and age, especially when there’s so much digital isolation, to do stuff out of doors where people can convene and talk is still really important,” he said.

And Dinowitz, another born and raised Bronxite, encourages people from all neighborhoods to stop by any upcoming concerts because of its convenience and celebration of the Bronx.

“My attitude is if I don’t have to leave the Bronx, I don’t,” the Assemblyman said. “I like to stick to the Bronx, and there are just so many great things to do right here in our neighborhoods in the Bronx. And this is just a small part of it.”

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