We are thrilled to welcome our new Director of Education & Public Engagement, Emily Pinkowitz! Emily joined the Conservancy in April. Previously, she was the Director of Programs & Education at the High Line, where she worked for five years, starting during its opening season. At the High Line, she developed educational and public programs illuminating its history, design, and landscape. Emily has also previously worked at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, the Queens Museum, and the Oakland Museum of California.
At the Conservancy, Emily will develop public programs, educational offerings, and engagement initiatives for all ages. We asked Emily to answer a few questions so you can get to know her better - read on to see what she has to say.
What excited you about working at Four Freedoms Park?
The first time I visited the Park, I was struck by its beauty and its strangeness. As a native New Yorker, I had never experienced the sense of expansiveness and smallness that I felt ascending the steps and looking out over the lawn. It felt so singular to me in a city that is full of urban canyons and busy streets. Then, I was moved. Reading the excerpt of the speech and sitting, looking out over the water, I was moved that a public place dedicated to these ideals existed in the city. And then, I was excited that I might have the opportunity to work for a place in which I could learn more about the history of this speech, and this park, and the ideology and people that brought them into being.
As someone who has dedicated her career to democratizing public space, I am excited by the interplay of social history, creative expression, contemplation, and social justice embodied in Four Freedoms Park. Poised at the “prow” of Roosevelt Island, in the shadow of the UN, the Park is both a monument to the past and a celebration of the future. It draws from the legacy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the striking design of Louis Kahn to inspire us to reflect on what the city has been and what it will be, to measure this against the ideals of the Four Freedoms, and to consider the role that each of us can play in making our city more just. I am excited to work with local communities and like-minded organizations across New York to develop an extended network of practice united by these ideals. Through this network, I hope to create programs and educational offerings that bring New Yorkers together and activate the Park as a creative extension of these ideals in action.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Morningside Heights in Manhattan, and attended Hunter College Campus School, a magnet public school that served kids from all over the city. This experience fundamentally shaped my identity and, ultimately, my career path. At Hunter, I became friends with people from all five boroughs with different socioeconomic and cultural experiences. As someone whose father is a third-generation native New Yorker and mother is half-Chinese and half-Welsh, I felt at home in this diverse environment. At Hunter, I also sang in a Jazz Chorus, and in my senior year, I traveled with this chorus to Dakar, Senegal, where we visited the Maison des Esclaves on Gorée Island. This memorial to Africans who were enslaved as part of the transatlantic slave trade acted as a launch point to an intense, earnest, honest conversation about the legacy of enslavement in our own lives as a diverse group of New York City teenagers. This experience made me acutely aware of the power of place: cultural and historic spaces send important messages about what we, as a society, value. What is more, they are rich with the potential to spark dialogue and exchange. At their best, these spaces reflect the complex heritage of the communities that surround them and act as launch points for reflection and interaction.
In my career, I have continued to explore the interplay between cultural spaces and the public. At the Oakland Museum of California, I worked on a gallery renovation aimed at making the Gallery of California Art more reflective of the Asian- and Black-American communities that surrounded the museum. At the Tenement Museum, I facilitated dialogues that used the apartments of historical immigrant families as a jumping off point for conversations about contemporary immigration policy. I loved this work, but I became increasingly interested in parks as public spaces that are truly free and open to all. In the fall of 2009, I had the incredible opportunity to join Friends of the High Line in the park’s the opening year to lay the groundwork for educational programs. From 2009-2015, I worked with a growing team to develop a roster of school, youth, family, and community programs that served thousands of New Yorkers locally and across the city. I loved this work, and I am excited to bring this experience to Four Freedoms Park, a public space that is readily aligned with my ideals.
What’s your favorite FDR quote?
This is too hard! But maybe: “Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation…begins where competition leaves off.”
Do you have a hidden talent most people don’t know about?
I have an uncanny ability to remember song lyrics from 30+ years ago.
What’s on your Bucket List?
Eating healthy and exercising. Don’t laugh.
What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
Chocolate chocolate chip. OR fresh mint chip, if I can find it.
Name your go-to karaoke song.
Dreams by Fleetwood Mac has been up there for a while.
Say hi to Emily here!