Founded in 1974 in New York state, the Open Space Institute (OSI) has been dedicated to smart land conservation, improving people’s lives, and the world, through their actions. OSI’s team consists of hardworking and dedicated professionals in numerous fields, including science, law, finance and business. As of 2020, the organization has saved over 2,285,092 acres of land in states throughout the country, including New York, Maine, South Carolina, New Jersey, Florida and Virginia, via direct acquisition, grants and loans. Plus, they’ve launched the Conservation Capital program to accelerate the rate and effectiveness of land protection.
However, OSI’s success is defined by more than just the millions of acres saved. Because of their efforts, more people now have clean drinking water and greater access to local foods. More parks are refurbished for recreation, and areas are better preserved for threatened and endangered species, as well as prepared for climate change. What’s more, their actions sparked the formation of local environmental groups and the preservation of historically significant areas and buildings.
The Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park Project
Preserving historic sites for future generations is important to philanthropist and entrepreneur Robert F. Smith. In 2019, by way of Fund II Foundation, Smith purchased two of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s family homes and immediately had them transferred to the National Park Services for preservation.
In 2018, Smith helped to preserve another historical landmark: the cultural performance center at the Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park in Harlem, NY. The performance center hosts social, educational and other activities that more than 60,000 guests attend every year. In partnership with the New York City Regional Parks Commission and the Natural Heritage Trust, the OSI spearheaded a $2.8 million campaign to upgrade and revitalize the center, raising significant support from donors, including Smith. Smith donated $1 million, making his contribution the largest single donor contribution to the project’s capital campaign.
“Robert Smith’s generous gift will have tremendous benefits to the people of West Harlem and all who use the cultural center to socialize, celebrate, enjoy performances and experience the arts,” stated OSU President and CEO Kim Elliman.
Indeed, Smith’s donation, and the support of many others, allowed for the replacement of outdated house lighting, sound equipment, bleacher seating and flooring; the installation of new theatrical lighting; and the modification of the stage area in the cultural performance center.
Regarding the gift, Smith said, “Music and artistic expression have a unique power to unite families and communities. Few places embody that more than Harlem. I’m humbled by the opportunity to contribute to a center where people of all ages can come together in appreciation of the arts. By bringing together leaders in the public and private sectors for this effort, we are ensuring West Harlem’s rich culture and heritage can take center stage.”
The Robert Frederick Smith Center for the Performing Arts
Because of Smith’s generosity, the cultural performance center at Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park was named after him. The grand reopening of the Robert Frederick Smith Center for the Performing Arts was announced in April 2019 by the Governor of New York, Andrew M. Cuomo.
“Denny Farrell’s model of service was the essence of good government because it was all about getting things done that make a real difference in people’s lives,” said Governor Cuomo. “This new performing arts center will do exactly that, enhancing one of the jewels of our state parks system and touching countless lives in the community and beyond. It’s a perfect fit for Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park and the New York family is grateful to Robert Frederick Smith for helping make it happen.”
At the grand reopening, the Late Show with Stephen Colbert bandleader Jon Batiste played for the crowd. Other performers scheduled at the reopening included the Marching Cobras, the Harlem Renaissance Choir, cellist Sterling Elliott, Catalyst Quartet, jazz trumpeter Shareef Clayton and the NYO-USA wind quintet.