Erika Elliott, Executive Artistic Director of SummerStage

By Bonnie Comley

Summer is here! And that means music and performing arts in our beautiful NYC parks! If you have ever attended one of these events and thought this is the perfect music for this park, you must thank Erika Elliott.

Erika Elliott has been the curator for City Parks Foundation’s SummerStage, which has grown exponentially under her leadership. Not only has programming attracted diversity in the audience but Ms. Elliott achieved gender parity back in 2019, meaning she was programming at least as many female bands and artists (or groups that included women) as men.

City Parks Foundation is a non-profit created in 1989 to offer free arts, sports, and education programs in over 750 parks in all five boroughs of New York City and dedicated to invigorating and transforming parks into dynamic, vibrant centers of urban life through sports, arts, community building and education programs for all New Yorkers. Their programs—located in hundreds of parks, recreation centers, and public schools across New York City—reach thousands of people each year.

As Executive Artistic Director of SummerStage and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, Erika Elliott programs over one hundred free shows every summer in all five boroughs. She donates her time and talent to the Recording Academy as the elected board of the New York Chapter. She also is a proud Bronx native and serves on the advisory board of the Bronx Music Heritage Center, and Mott Haven Fridge which seeks to ddress food insecurity in the borough. Ms. Elliott manages all this while raising her teenage son!

I had a chance to talk to this busy woman about her superpowers.

With your experience, you could work in any city.
Why NYC?

It is such a privilege to be able to bring the best artists to the heart of New York in Central Park and parks around the city and for free. There is an unparalleled energy to the city that is only matched by the incredible diversity. Add to that the character and flavor of each borough, and the legacy of creativity and impact that New York and New Yorkers have made on the world.

SummerStage is committed to gender parity and diversity.
Tell us more.

I am fortunate enough to work at a mission-based organization that is about making the arts accessible, but I like to think my legacy at the Festival is also about ensuring that it is equitable holding space for and giving a platform to diverse artists, genres, and really representing New York City. SummerStage is a women lead festival, and that is the work of our board and our executive Director Heather Lubov. I learned about the global initiative KEY CHANGE through a conference in Europe. It’s a global initiative to address gender equity in the music industry generally but particularly by asking that Festivals commit to 50/50 parity. I was proud to achieve this in 2019 and have remained committed to this every year since.

You book a diverse lineup of music genres. Do you enjoy all you present at the parks?
I love what I do, not because I book all my personal favorites (but of course there are some!) but because I get to book for the city and get to present artists that are meaningful to a broad range of New Yorkers, from Colombian to Ghanaian, Opera to Doo Wop and everything in between.

You took SummerStage online before the pandemic. Why go online for an organization that is presenting in-person shows and music?
We only pivoted once it was clear we were not going to have a live in-person season. As we (and the world) tried to imagine what to do, we decided that continuing to serve the communities we do in real life, and artists was important. As a festival we have very purposefully served communities and in the pandemic; we wanted to continue to connect to those communities. As importantly in this moment we also realized that the artist community that we have relied on and partnered with to perform needed an opportunity to work! And thus, SummerStage Anywhere was born

What are you most proud of accomplishing?
Nearly 20 years after joining SummerStage, I think overall it is that I have consistently served the city and its people with joy, presenting a world class festival that is truly inclusive and celebrates the variety of communities that make New York City great. And what’s more that we bring the art to the people touching down in all five boroughs with the festival. We are the most authentic, diverse and accessible festival in the world.

For more information on SummerStage,