From El Museo del Barrio to the High Line: Educating Communities

Casals to New York came 12 years ago and is dedicated to cultural education for Latino families. (Photo by Jose Acosta, via El Diario La Prensa)

Gonzalo Casals came to New York 12 years ago and is dedicated to cultural education for Latino families. (Photo by José Acosta, via El Diario La Prensa)

Thirty feet above the ground, High Line Park, the elevated urban park built on an old railway line in the western part of Manhattan, has become a scenic viewpoint in the city visited by thousands of people each year.

But the so-called “park in the sky,” which is more than 2 kilometers long and runs from Gansevoort to 34th Streets, isn’t just a place to walk along.

Thanks to the nonprofit Friends of the High Line, a variety of events and educational programs take place at the park. Heading these programs is Gonzalo Casals, 39, an architect born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who came to New York 12 years ago to work in museums. He became the deputy executive director at El Museo del Barrio, where for 7 years he oversaw educational programs and community relations.

What did you do at El Museo del Barrio?

I created educational opportunities, not only to support El Barrio’s community, but communities throughout New York. One of our main goals was cultural empowerment, with the idea of showing communities the cultural value and traditions of Latinos.

What made you change from working at a museum to a park?

I liked the idea that all the educational and cultural work we were doing at the museum could be done in all of the city’s public spaces. I became especially interested in this park because it’s in a very diverse neighborhood, in Chelsea, where thousands of families, mostly Latino, live in public housing.

What programs does the park offer?

We have educational programs, concerts, and festivals, all free. One of the most important programs is “Arriba” (Upwards), which is a series of Latino music concerts, especially salsa, which we do once a month on Wednesdays in the summer. This year we’re going to include a domino competition.

Do you have some kind of program for youth?

Yes. Every year we give job opportunities to 30 youth that live in public housing for a period of 6 months. We pay them $10 an hour. One group works on horticulture with our gardeners, and we give them career options. Another group works on cultural production, and they help us decide which programs can be implemented during the year.

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