Monique Martin: Nurturing natural talent and pure ability (40356)

Sunset, Morningside, Crotona, Faber and Queensbridge. Monique Martin has a favorite park in every borough, but the director of family programming for New York City parks admits that she didn’t always see these areas the way she sees them now: places with a unique beauty and the potential for free programming for parents, grandparents, tweens and everyone in between.

“There are lots of green spaces, and it’s my experience that a lot of families don’t use them as much as they could,” Martin said.

Martin started working with the City Parks Foundation in 2007 as a director of operations. She became the director of family programming after two years and is responsible for about 100 music, dance, theater and kids programs in parks throughout New York City. One of the programs is SummerStage Kids, New York City’s first international family festival with a lineup that includes African dance, hip-hop, jazz, circus, tap, puppetry and other performing arts from around the world.

Working with mimes, clowns and puppets wasn’t always in Martin’s career plan. She grew up in Oakland and Berkeley, Calif., where she was introduced to the arts at an early age. Her father was a musician, her sister was a dancer and she and all her siblings played piano. After college she went to work on Broadway as a stage manager for shows such as “Sarafina!” and a tour manager for R&B singer Gina Thompson and Missy Elliot. She passed down this love of the arts to her 16-year-old tap-dancing son Alassane.

“I really didn’t see family programming as a professional field. When my son was younger, we went to everything: Joe’s Pub, the Apollo, museums. I never delineated ‘this is for children’ and ‘this is for adults.’”

Seeing families planning their summer schedule around her programs is just one of the ways that Martin has witnessed the impact of her work. One of her favorite performances includes Mimes Times Two, an interactive two-man theater act that she thought children might not enjoy. Fortunately she was wrong.

“If the families, including the adults, are singing a song when they leave the park, if they are trying to do a dance move, if their eyes are bugged out and they’re still wondering, ‘How did they do that?’ I think we’ve accomplished our mission,” Martin said.

Martin’s ambition is clear. Her programs reflect her goal to honor the innocence of children while engaging their sophistication. She hopes to get more mainstream artists such as, Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae involved in her programs. As a resident of Harlem, she’s also working on bringing more kid-friendly, free activities uptown. She urges the community to invest in the self-esteem and education of the city’s youth by supporting the arts.

“My hope is that there is more art available for the youth to express themselves in whatever form. I think the youth have a lot to say, and we should listen,” she said.

Visit: for a complete schedule of free summer programming.