Inclusivity Through Music

Music is a universal language. With music, you can communicate across cultural and linguistic boundaries. This universal feature of the human experience brings people together and can open the mind to appreciate new, diverse people and ideas.

The Levitt AMP Music Series returned for its fourth year to Oneida Square’s Kopernik park, a Genesee Street green space near the city’s Arts & Culture District.

Through lively, layered arts experiences, the 2019 series aimed to deepen partnerships with the city’s underserved refugee communities, helping the park realize its potential as a vibrant gathering place that fosters intercultural exchange and the creation of a stronger, more unified community.

“Levitt’s big focus, and the reason I believe they love Utica, is inclusivity,” said Levitt AMP Utica Coordinator Michelle Truett. “A lot of the work we did this year was aimed at the importance of inclusion. Through intentional efforts like translating our posters in 10 languages and always having multiple languages on our stage banner—plus a lot of one-on-one outreach to groups and individuals—we put forth effort to make sure everyone knows they are welcome.”

In 2019, Utica received the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation’s Levitt AMP Grant Award for a fourth consecutive year; 2020 could be the fifth year as the city is one of 25 finalists. The grant program aims to transform public spaces by bringing residents and visitors of all ages and backgrounds together to experience an eclectic mix of musical entertainment in a central and welcoming venue.

“Our donors and partners believe in making Downtown Utica an even better place,” said Alicia Dicks, president/CEO of The Community Foundation. “Bringing people together for live music all summer long is a great example of what Downtown has to offer.”

Each year, The Community Foundation has matched the $25,000 grant awarded by the Levitt Foundation to present 10 weeks of free concerts in the park in partnership with Utica Monday Nite, the City of Utica, DeSales Center, Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute and Rust2Green Utica.

Generous funding for the summer concert series and creative placemaking efforts was also provided through local donations, in-kind contributions and sponsorships including a $5,000 grant from the M&T Bank/Partners Trust Bank Charitable Fund, a donor-advised fund of The Community Foundation.

Featuring live music, art, performances, food trucks and a lively atmosphere, the concerts are events where everyone is welcome to enjoy a reinvigorated space, quality entertainment and build community together in a family-friendly, alcohol-free environment.

This year’s concert series featured regional and national headliner acts with local opening bands ranging from funk to rock, jazz to country, and soul to Latin music. Thousands of people came out on Monday evenings throughout the summer to enjoy the performances, which averaged 700 in attendance each week.

In 2019, Levitt AMP Utica increased the mix of local opening acts, including two regional performers: a Latino band from Syracuse and a rock/folk group from Saratoga Springs. Young talent, like Lillie Ruth Music – an intermission act in 2018 – also had the opportunity to take the stage this year.

Another way Levitt AMP Utica fostered young talent through the 2019 series was by engaging the “Levitteen” intern team. The group of youth from urban and rural areas comprised high school and college students as well as recent graduates from differing backgrounds and disciplines, all working together with industry professionals, immersing themselves in the city’s cultural and community life.

Even the community’s youngest residents had an outlet to express their creativity. At the Levitt Kids Art Circle, children joined local creators, working at desks colorfully painted by neighborhood artists and donated by the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees, in making weekly art projects.

Capturing the community feeling was just as important. Several local photographers were selected to curate the incredible collection of moments—illustrating the spirit of the event, connections made through a love of music and a city on the rise.

“More than once, a sponsor or a concert-goer said to me ‘THIS is Utica’ while looking around the audience,” said Truett. “The bands that came from all over the country were so impressed by the different kinds of people that filled the park. That’s what melted my heart every week.”