Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Press Release

April 05, 2019

New York State Announces Opening of $2.8 Million Robert Frederick Smith Center for the Performing Arts at Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park

Project to Revitalize Cultural Performance Center Supported by $1 Million Gift from Investor and Philanthropist Robert Frederick Smith

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the opening of Robert Frederick Smith Center for the Performing Arts at Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park in Harlem. The opening will be celebrated with a performance featuring The Late Show with Stephen Colbert bandleader Jon Batiste, as well as some of the community's most talented artists. The performance space is named in recognition of philanthropist and Vista Equity Partners Founder, Chairman and CEO Robert Frederick Smith's $1 million donation toward a $2.8 million renovation of the facility.

"Denny Farrell's model of service was the essence of good government because it was all about getting things done that make a real difference in people's lives," Governor Cuomo said. "This new performing arts center will do exactly that, enhancing one of the jewels of our state parks system and touching countless lives in the community and beyond. It's a perfect fit for Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park and the New York family is grateful to Robert Frederick Smith for helping make it happen."

"The revitalized performing arts center at Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park will infuse the area with activities, culture and entertainment," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "The Robert Frederick Smith Center for the Performing Arts will also offer children and families opportunities to participate in community and educational programs throughout the year. The facility brings tens of thousands of people annually to the area, growing the local tourism industry and strengthening the overall economy."

The cultural performance center serves as one of Riverbank's most popular and dynamic features—hosting scores of social, educational, and performance-related activities and events each year. From ballet, jazz and orchestra performances to classes, summer camp activities and community programs, the facility welcomes more than 60,000 people a year.

"The performing arts center has always been a treasured part of this neighborhood's cultural fabric. Music and the arts bring people together and strengthen our communities," said Robert Frederick Smith. "Modernizing the center means a lot to me as its impact stretches well beyond its walls, to the lives of all the families and performers who are inspired to come together and share their imagination, talent, and love for Harlem."

The center will open with a performance by Jazz pianist Jon Batiste, headlining an evening of performances by some of the community's most talented artists. Batiste has recorded and performed with artists in various genres of music and regularly tours with his band Stay Human - and appears with them nightly as Bandleader and Musical Director on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Batiste also serves as the Music Director of The Atlantic and the Creative Director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Other performers include the Marching Cobras, the Harlem Renaissance Choir, cellist Sterling Elliott, Catalyst Quartet, jazz trumpeter Shareef Clayton, and the NYO-USA wind quintet.

Acting State Parks Supervisor Erik Kulleseid said, "The project will make the center much more welcoming to audience members and boost production values, bringing even more vitality to this beloved area of the park. I am grateful to Governor Cuomo, Robert Frederick Smith and all the partners for their commitment to the enrichment of Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park."

Kim Elliman, OSI president and CEO, said, "The Open Space Institute is proud to have played a role in this exciting project to upgrade this cultural performance center and enhance the overall experience for all who use the space to socialize, celebrate, and experience the arts. Thanks to Robert Smith and Lucy Rockefeller Waletzky for their leadership and commitment to this project. We are also grateful for the support of the Durst Family, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Parsons Family Foundation, who joined OSI to help make the revitalization of this community centerpiece a reality."

Lucy Rockefeller Waletzky, chair of the New York State Council of Parks, said, "It's exciting to see this drab auditorium transformed into a glorious performing arts and community space filled with music, dance, and laughter. I am grateful to Robert F. Smith and all who stepped forward to support this new cultural center, which I am certain will continue to be a lively and joyous place of community activity for generations to come."

Senator Robert Jackson said, "It is wonderful to see the renovations of the Robert Frederick Smith Center for the Performing Arts completed. I thank Mr. Smith, Governor Cuomo, and the other public and private partners who helped make these improvements possible. I look forward to all the excellent programming this facility will attract to my district. This project is a great way for us to continue to honor the legacy of one of my most cherished mentors, the late Denny Farrell."

Senator Brian A. Benjamin said, "I am delighted that this new facility will allow the Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park to continue to serve Harlem's residents and provide them with access to a performing arts space. Our parks are a vital part of our neighborhoods and community—Assemblymember Farrell would be proud of everything that New York State is doing to honor his legacy."

Assemblymember Al Taylor said, "Robert F. Smith's generous support has brought new life to a beloved Harlem institution. Every year millions of New Yorkers enjoy the amenities the Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park has to offer, and now thanks to this incredible gift, and the generosity of private and public partners, Harlem will remain a center of artistic expression and performance for years to come."

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said, "When you think of treasured community gems, the cultural performing arts center at Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park immediately comes to mind. I'm thrilled to have been able to contribute to the renovation of this beautiful performing arts center, and I thank all who worked together to fund this amazing project."

New York City Councilmember Mark Levine said, "For decades, Riverbank State Park has been an invaluable resource for countless members of our Manhattan community. I applaud the tremendous generosity of Robert Smith and the commitment of all the partners involved to ensure that the center's revitalizations continue to provide amazing recreational and performance opportunities."

Alexander Durst of The Durst Organization said, "We were proud to play a role in the revitalization of the Robert Frederick Smith Center for the Performing Arts at Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park. The project was an exciting collaboration between OSI and the New York State Office of Parks and Recreation that leveraged the philanthropic community and the private sector to create a beautiful cultural and performance center for Upper Manhattan."

Senior Vice President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Leisle Lin said, "It is very exciting to be at the opening phase of the upgraded Cultural Performance Center at Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park. The enhancements and technological improvements will increase the value of the already much used civic and performance center."

Smith's gift is the largest contribution to a capital campaign launched by the Open Space Institute in partnership with the New York City Regional Parks Commission and the Natural Heritage Trust, which has raised nearly $2.8 million in public and private grants and donations. Other major support has come from Lucy R. Waletzky, M.D., the Durst Organization, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation. Public support comes from Governor Cuomo's NY Parks 2020 program and grants from the late Assemblyman Denny Farrell, for whom the park was renamed last year, as well as Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and New York City Councilman Mark Levine.

Under Governor Cuomo's leadership, New York State is making an historic commitment to improving parks and expanding access to outdoor recreation. The Governor's NY Parks 2020 program is a multi-year commitment to revitalize the state park system. The 2019-20 State Budget allocates $110 million toward this initiative.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 individual parks, historic sites, golf courses, recreational trails and boat launches, which are visited by 74 million people annually. For more information on any of these recreation areas, visit