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For those who enjoy their performing arts al fresco, the Celebrate Brooklyn summer performance schedule has been an annual treat for the last 24 years.

With free admission, and a suggested contribution of $3, the price is a steal to see veteran performers. And as for performances by emerging artists, Celebrate Brooklyn’s low entrance fee has made it possible for audience members to take a gamble and discover new faces, because they literally have nothing to lose.

Co-producer Jack Walsh has labored over Celebrate Brooklyn for the last 21 seasons, and says the summer of 2003, the festival’s 25th, promises to contain more heaping helpings of the same recipe for success.

"We were coming off last summer’s incredibly strong program, with a really strong lineup," Walsh told GO Brooklyn. "We had set the bar pretty high for ourselves. We came in saying, if we do not match the level of what we did last year, we wanted to exceed it."

The 2002 season attracted more than 200,000 visitors to Prospect Park and included performances by dozens of artists including Dr. John, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, a screening of the Elvis Presley movie "Jailhouse Rock" and new work by choreographers David Neumann and NicholasLe­ichterDance - commissioned by Celebrate Brooklyn.

Held at the Prospect Park Bandshell at Prospect Park West and Ninth Street, this year’s festival will kick off on June 12 with a performance by singer Joan Armatrading. The British vocalist has been performing her blend of rock, reggae, blues and jazz for 30 years. After an eight-year hiatus, she returned this year with her March release "Lover’s Speak" (Denon, $16.98).

Armatrading’s concert will be preceded by a 25th birthday gala, a benefit to raise funds for Celebrate Brooklyn. Honorees will be Gordon Davis, former chairman of the city Parks Department, and Fort Greene-based choreographer Mark Morris.

Walsh credits Davis with the creation of Celebrate Brooklyn in 1979.

"Davis was the Parks commissioner from 1978 to 1983, and he was instrumental in making Celebrate Brooklyn," said Walsh. "We’re honoring him for that initiative. Since then he has gone on to be active in New York City’s cultural world."

The world-renowned Mark Morris Dance Group made its Celebrate Brooklyn debut in 1985, and has performed there two additional times. Morris opened the Mark Morris Dance Center in Fort Greene in 2001.

"We love it, truly love it," said Barry Alterman, general director of the Mark Morris Dance Group. "Mark gets a lot of honors, but to be honored by an organization that we both esteem and love is just the best. We’re hoping to perform every year starting next year - into perpetuity!

"It’s the greatest scene - to have all of those people come to Prospect Park and see great performers in a setting that’s beautiful, relaxed and exciting. It’s one of the great things that Brooklyn and New York has."

While favorite performers like the Alloy Orchestra and the Mark Morris Dance Group return regularly, the festival is always being tweaked. Last year, Walsh even revamped the Friends of Celebrate Brooklyn membership program with additional perks and added new concessionaire Two Boots.

"We were able to get through the renovation of the bandshell in 1998-99 with extraordinarily successful seasons," said Walsh, "resulting in the fabulous facility we have now with enhanced production values and comfort level for the audience and improved sightlines."

When Walsh became director of the festival in 1994, he made a significant change in its programming philosophy.

"Rachel Charnoff, my co-producer, and I made it our mandate at that point to focus on a slightly different program model," explained Walsh. "We paired a local emerging artist of highest quality with a nationally oriented recognized artist. It took some time to be able to afford that, but the result was to attract larger audiences and to introduce lesser known but deserving artists to a larger audience."

In 1996, Walsh said, he introduced the concept of live musical accompaniment to silent films.

This summer, the Alloy Orchestra will perform the score to "The Black Pirate," the 1926 film written by and starring Douglas Fairbanks.

This summer’s festival is again commissioning new dance works (by Keely Garfield and Jamel Gaines) and will see the return of Jazz at Lincoln Center; the Brooklyn Philharmonic, with Tony Award-winning singer Lillias White; the African Festival, featuring Salif Keita; the Boricua Festival; and the Irish rock group the Saw Doctors.

Walsh has been able to keep Celebrate Brooklyn afloat despite the city’s economic highs and lows by creating corporate sponsorships, the Friends of Celebrate Brooklyn membership program, the "Keep it Great give $3 at the Gate" campaign and by offering benefit concerts.

"Now I would say it’s fair to say that we’re feeling the pinch along with everyone else," said Walsh. "We fear what the future holds if the economy continues to drag along. That said, we’re in pretty good shape going into this year, and we have as full a season as we had last year."


The 25th Birthday Gala on June 12 to benefit Celebrate Brooklyn will feature cocktails and dinner at 5:30 pm followed by a performance by Joan Armatrading at 8 pm and post-concert party, at 9:30 pm, featuring Globesonic DJ Collective. Tickets are $250 and up for VIP seating at the concert, pre-concert dinner and post-concert party.

Admission to the concert is free and open to the public with a suggested donation of $3. For the complete Celebrate Brooklyn schedule, log on to

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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