By John Pfeil
Last year’s Movie in the Park at Hamilton Park gave Summer Free For All’s program supervisor, Chariti Montez, goosebumps. “Our staff were like, ‘Okay great, we’ve got a band, we’re building a stage, we’re getting the microphones set up …’ But when the scheduled performers, Tongan group Mosimosi Koula, showed up the evening of the performance, they said, ‘We don’t do this on a stage!’”
Summer Free For All empowers Portlanders to create and cultivate community and celebrate our city’s growing cultural diversity through 1,800 free activities at 77 sites all over Portland. It includes free concerts and movies, as well as free lunches and supervised playtime for kids, all in parks. In 2017, the events attracted more than 200,000 Portlanders and provided over 100,000 free lunches for kids. The program is organized by Portland Parks and Recreation in collaboration with many community partners across the city, including Portland Parks Foundation. This year, PPF raised over $66,000 from generous donors including Columbia Bank, Juan Young Trust, Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation, Bank of America, U.S. Bank, Portland Trail Blazers, and KEEN.
Chariti Montez leads PP&R’s Summer Free for All team. Her personal story is reflective of Portland’s growing immigrant communities. Chariti was born in Salem with a Mexican immigrant father and a white mother. Her family worked in the fields, and when she was young, her father was deported. She did not see him again for 35 years. Her father eventually returned to live in the United States through an amnesty program in the 1980s. Among other things, her experiences while growing up, first in Salem, then in Portland and Vancouver have helped shape her perspectives on how parks programs can positively impact all Portlanders
In 2015, PP&R commissioned a study to learn more about who was being served by their flagship summertime events, and who was being left out. “It found that folks who came ... were largely from the dominant culture, college educated, and middle class. We weren’t reaching people of other groups in the same percentage that live in the city,” Chariti said. Since that time, Chariti has made it her mission to help diverse communities see themselves in the Summer Free For All schedule.
That Movie in Hamilton Park is a great example of how Chariti and her team have helped the program be more responsive to our city’s growing cultural diversity. Back at Hamilton Park, directed by members of Mosimosi Koula, the group dismantled the stage and set up a few microphones in the middle of a large circle. The group sat in front of the movie screen in the grass and performed. When it got dark, they finished and ‘Moana’ was projected onto the huge, outdoor movie screen. “It was amazing,” Chariti remembers. “These are different kinds of performances, the audience is a part of it.”
Another way that Chariti’s team has transformed the program is to actively engage new communities and groups who have not traditionally accessed opportunities for partnership and participation. “The way Summer Free for All works is that a community partner applies to host a movie or a concert series. Some of those groups have been doing it for years. They were the groups that knew about it. If you are a group that knows how to navigate the system, or how to apply, or how to fundraise, or that the program is even for you, then you’re going to choose the band and the movies that you like. That reinforces the programming. If it’s always the same community group picking the same kind of music or the same kind of movies, then the people who are not included don’t come, don’t see anything for them, and don’t think it’s for them.”
So when 12-piece Cuban dance band Pilon d’Azucar played the Washington Park Summer Festival on the famous Washington Park Amphitheatre stage last year, friends pulled her aside and said, “You had something to do with this. It’s a really big deal that these performers are in this garden at this venue right now.” Any day of the year you can see visitors from all over the world in the garden, but people from that community still didn’t feel like the space belonged to them. “It was a really proud moment for the performers, and to have so many people from the Latino and Latinx community community show up felt impactful.”
“There’s this ephemeral aspect to Summer Free For All that’s really fun, this sense of community and placemaking. All of the sudden there’s a stage that, for most of these parks, wasn’t there the day before, and the next day you’re not even going to know it was there.” The stages may come and go, but the inclusiveness and diversity resulting from Chariti’s work will have impacts for generations to come.
Our picks for Summer Free For All 2018:
Friday, July 20th at 6:30 pm at Harrison Park (SE 84th Ave. and Harrison St.)
Concert: Joe Kyle - Indie rock, classical, pop vocalist, and voilinst looper
Movie: Can (2011)
Wednesday, August 15th at 6:30 pm at Laurelhust Park (SE Cesar E Chavez Blvd and Stark St.)
Concert: DJ Prashant & Jai Ho! Dance Troupe - Interactive Bollywood and Bhangra dance
Movie: Chak de! India (2007)
Thursday, August 9, 6:30 pm at Dawson Park (2926 N Williams Ave.)
Concert: Eldon “T” Jones & N Touch - groovy jazz
Thursday, August 18, 6:30 pm at Dawson park (2926 N Williams Ave.)
Concert: EMBRACE - contemporary Christian and gospel
Saturday, August 18 6:30 pm at Gateway Discovery Park (NE Halsey St. and 108th Ave.) Tonga Day 2018
Concert: Tongan 101 - Tongan/Pacific Islander music and dance
Movie: Moana (2016)
Photos courtesy Ben Brink, Fred Joe, and Luceil Rice and Portland Parks & Recreation and John Pfeil of PPF