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Neighborhood Concert Partner: Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden

This season, Carnegie Hall celebrates 40 years of partnering with local community organizations to present free Neighborhood Concerts featuring outstanding main-stage artists as well as exciting rising stars of classical, jazz, and world music. These performances tap into the pulse of diverse communities across New York City and bring local residents together to share in the joy of music.

On May 7, Carnegie Hall presents a Neighborhood Concert with Viento de Agua at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden in Staten Island. We talked to Larry Anderson—Snug Harbor’s director of performing arts and production management—about the history of Snug Harbor, its relationship with Carnegie Hall’s Neighborhood Concerts, and the best things to do in Staten Island.

What is the history of Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden?

Robert Richard Randall founded Sailors’ Snug Harbor as a “haven for aged, decrepit, and worn out sailors” with his benefactors’ bequest in 1801. Over the next century, Sailors’ Snug Harbor expanded from its original three buildings to 50 structures and 900 residents from every corner of the world. By the turn of the 20th century, Sailors’ Snug Harbor was the richest charitable institution in the US, as well as a self-sustaining community composed of a working farm, dairy, bakery, chapel, sanatorium, hospital, music hall, and cemetery.

When Sailors’ Snug Harbor moved off of Staten Island in the 1960s, the newly formed New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission stepped forward to save the five Greek Revival front buildings and the chapel and designated them New York City’s first landmark structures. Local activists and artists worked with elected officials to secure the unique property and its principal buildings for New York during the 1970s, with the objective of transforming the complex into a regional arts center. The newly formed Snug Harbor Cultural Center was incorporated in 1975.

In 2008, Snug Harbor Cultural Center was combined with the Staten Island Botanical Gardens to become Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. Today, Snug Harbor is a place where history, architecture, visual art, theater, dance, music, and environmental science come together to provide dynamic experiences for people of all ages. Consisting of 28 buildings, it is one of the largest ongoing adaptive reuse projects in America, and is one of New York City’s most unique architectural complexes and historic landscapes. Its Music Hall is one of the oldest concert halls in New York City—second only to Carnegie Hall—and serves as the centerpiece for the performing arts.

Can you describe some of the architectural details of the building?

Snug Harbor’s major buildings are representative of the changing architectural styles of the early 19th and 20th centuries. The first buildings were built in the Greek Revival style. As the complex expanded, new buildings were erected in the Beaux Arts, Renaissance Revival, Second Empire, and Italianate styles. High Victorian decorative components were added throughout the 83-acre site.

What is one unique feature of the Music Hall at Snug Harbor that you would like concertgoers to know about?

The Music Hall at Snug Harbor is the only music hall on Staten Island. It is just six months younger than Carnegie Hall! It was built as a space to entertain the sailors who lived here, providing them with vaudevillian performances and, later, films. We’ve featured local and international performers ranging from David Bowie to Norah Jones. The Music Hall is said to be haunted by the benevolent ghost of the mysterious Lady in White.

Snug Harbor Cultural Center 630px (Stefan Cohen)
Photography by Stefan Cohen

What kind of concerts and genres do you typically present?

Since our campus is so big, we offer a wide range of performances and artistic programming. The Music Hall generally features live theater, dance, and music performances. We also feature chamber ensembles and multimedia performances in our Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, which is a historic building on campus. We also feature family-friendly programs throughout the year.

How long have concerts been taking place at this venue?

Concerts have been taking place since 1892, when the Music Hall was built.

How long has Snug Harbor been collaborating with Neighborhood Concerts?

We’ve been collaborating with Neighborhood Concerts for 20 years. It’s a great partnership that allows our neighborhood to experience a wide range of high quality, accessible music performances that they wouldn’t otherwise have immediate access to. It’s one of the most consistent and exciting programs we’re involved with.

What is your favorite Neighborhood Concert experience so far?

My favorite memory was meeting the mother of a six-year-old who came to see Emily Eagan. After talking to her I found out that her son knew all the words to Emily Eagan’s songs and begged his mother to bring him to see the concert. They drove all the way from eastern Pennsylvania just to see her, and got to meet her after the concert, which made his day.

For concertgoers who are new to the neighborhood, what should be on their itineraries before or after a concert at Snug Harbor?

Our campus has 83 acres of historic grounds, so that can be a whole day’s experience in itself. We are situated in Livingston on Staten Island’s historic North Shore, and we’re a short scenic bike ride, bus ride, or walk from the ferry. There are beautiful historic homes (some dating back to the late 19th century) in the area, as well as several local art galleries (Staten Island Arts, Creative Photographers Guild, and Art on the Terrace, to name a few). Of course, anyone looking to grab a bite to eat should check out Adobe Blues or Blue, which are both located within walking distance of Snug Harbor.

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