Later this season, Danya Sherman, our Director of Public Programs, Education & Community Engagement, will be moving on from Friends of the High Line to pursue a graduate degree in urban planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.
Though she will stay with us through June to help transition her successor, we want to take a moment to reflect on her positive impact and share our personal experience working with her.
Follow us after the jump for photos and anecdotes from the High Line community.
Danya joined Friends of the High Line in 2007, two years before the High Line opened to visitors. Working together with Joshua David and Robert Hammond, she developed a vision for the park’s public programming, education initiatives, volunteer opportunities, and community engagement. Six years later, you can see her impact on the High Line every day.
High Line Educators bring students from the local public schools on guided field trips. High Line Volunteers greet visitors and answer questions about the park and the neighborhood. High Line Docents guide tour groups from New York City and abroad through the park. Local teens work side-by-side with the High Line Gardeners to care for the park’s landscape while gaining workplace experience and a paycheck. Families stop by to take part in the High Line’s weekly nature- and arts-based activities. New York City historians, authors, artists, and designers lead High Line Tours focused on the elevated railway’s art, landscape, architecture, and industrial history.
I have had the pleasure of working with Danya for the past three years. I was curious to hear her take on what it was like back in those early years, before anyone knew what the future would hold for the High Line in its new life as a public park.
“We were always careful to stay in touch with neighborhood leaders and residents, so that we could develop programming that would be of interest and of use to them,” she told me. “After the park opened in 2009, we tested many types of programs to see what stuck. I believe our organization has learned so much since then. By developing relationships with neighbors, researching programs at other fantastic institutions, and spending a lot of time on the High Line, we’ve developed a diverse set of programs for all ages and all types of people. My hope is that we continue to create memorable experiences for a diverse population, and pursue public programs that are as unique as the High Line itself.”
Over the past three years, I have watched Danya accomplish so much. I could list out her achievements, but instead I want to reflect on one of the “memorable experiences” she created for the High Line. It began one afternoon back in January of 2011. Danya stopped by my desk toward the end of the workday to ask for my help. The weather forecasters were predicting a giant snowstorm would hit overnight, and she wanted to invite neighbors and kids from local schools to come play in the snow. We dreamed up the idea of a Snow Sculpt-Off, and hustled to get the logistics and communications together. However, the park had never experienced a heavy snowfall, and everyone was nervous about the “what ifs.” What if there is too much ice? What if there is too much snow? What if we can’t clear the access points and pathway for visitors? What if the snowstorm passes the city? What if the snow melts off before people have a chance to participate? What if no one comes out to play?
With her signature charm and resourcefulness, Danya managed to get all of our colleagues to work together to make the Snow Sculpt-Off happen, and it was a complete success. I believe that is Danya’s true gift: she brings people together toward a shared vision of making the High Line a better place. I asked her to tell me her secret.
“My work stems from my personal belief that people are happiest when they connect with one another and our natural environment. As a public institution, the High Line can be a platform for helping people accomplish what they want in life, explore creatively, connect with neighbors as well as a broader community, and offer unique experiences that help to enrich their city lives. Moreover, Friends of the High Line can be an important resource by actively working to develop opportunities and partnerships with people who are underserved by parks, institutions, and other resources. Parks are democratic institutions that play an important role in social cohesion. I am excited to spend my time at graduate school synthesizing what I have learned here. Studying urban design, community organizing, social policy, and more will allow me understand the context of my work at the High Line, and how to build upon it into the future.”
I asked a few of our colleagues and volunteers to also reflect on their experiences with Danya. As you can see from their quotes below, her passion for the High Line will be carried forward by those who have been inspired by her work. I know I speak for all of us when I say we are sad that the time has come to say farewell, but we are pleased that she is taking this important step to explore her passion for community engagement, public space, and urban design. She embodies the determination and spirit of Friends of the High Line, and we are so excited to watch her use what she has learned over these past six years to pursue excellence and innovation in this next chapter of her career.
“I first got to know Danya back before the High Line opened, when we were still advocating for the new park. This was in the days when it was still a dream and many folks didn't understand how great a park up on the rails would be. Sometimes we were battling against the tide, but there we were, in our red ‘Save the Rails’ T-shirts, and Danya was always at the forefront to make the High Line happen. On Opening Day 2009 we were there together, greeting park visitors. Over the past four years Danya has always put the park first, and been a champion for those who work and volunteer to make it so great. Along the way she's seen us through rain and snow and floods and droughts, not to mention many good times at our park in the sky. Danya will be missed; no doubt she'll move on to greater heights, and her years up on the rails will guide her. Happy Trails, Danya!" – Pete Davies, High Line Volunteer
“Danya practically wrote the book on creative ways of getting volunteer services and public programming off the ground. Thank you, Danya, for all the support you have given us docents. You generously shared your fount of knowledge, as well as your patience and good humor. While we will miss you, MIT is lucky to have you.” – Irene Buchman, High Line Volunteer
“Danya saw in the High Line a potential for more: more dancing, more playing, more learning, more connecting with our neighbors. She has the rare ability to draw others into her vision, to show them through her eyes what could be. I’ve learned a great deal from her over the last four years. Her dedication, perseverance, and sense of magic are at the heart of every public program we do on the park. She will be missed.” – Emily Pinkowitz, Manager of Education, Teen & Family Programs
“Danya has brought passion, warmth, and commitment to social justice to every aspect of her work here. Along with launching all of our public programs on the High Line, she led the development of our Community Engagement program, which works to ensure that the High Line is a welcoming, inclusive, equitable space that provides cultural programming and public benefits to everyone in the High Line community, including our neighbors in the two NYCHA housing complexes that are our closest neighbors, Robert Fulton Houses and Elliott Chelsea Houses. She will be greatly missed by all of us.” – Joshua David, Co-Founder of Friends of the High Line
“AMAZING wouldn’t even begin to describe what it’s like to work with Danya. I have learned so much from her. It’s hard to find the right words that express the awe, joy, and gratitude that I’ve experienced while working with her. I’m saddened that our time together was so short, but I look forward to hearing about all the great things she is sure to do in the future. I hope that in her absence the Programming team will continue to make her proud.” – Erycka Montoya Pérez, Community Engagement Manager
“Danya has long been a beacon of integrity, hard work, quality, and consistency in regards to programming, education, and community engagement for Friends of the High Line. When leaders of public spaces around the city (and country!) are looking for relevant programming ideas that resonate with their community, they look to the exciting work that Danya Sherman has orchestrated for the High Line.” – Tim Ries, Director of Park Services
“Danya represents the heart and soul of the High Line. Over the past six years, I've watched her grow professionally, build a committed team, and expand the High Line's community. I have learned so much from her, and I can't wait to watch all the amazing ways she changes the world for the better.” – Tara Morris, Vice President of Development
“You will be missed beyond description. I have so enjoyed my time working with you on all of the many High Line projects you so wonderfully oversaw. I am extremely happy for you and your next adventure.” – Karen Jacob, High Line Volunteer
“Friends of the High Line owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Danya for her extraordinary generosity, her many years of committed service, and the greatness of her vision. She has made a lasting impact on thousands of High Line patrons, volunteers and supporters in our community and will continue to do so for years to come. She will be sorely missed but her legacy and spirit will live on within our organization and on the High Line.” – Maria Torres-Springer, Chief Operating Officer at Friends of the High Line
“It was more than a pleasure volunteering with you, Danya, for so many years. Danya’s dedication and loyalty to Friends of the High Line really touched my life. Danya, you are such an inspiration and a friend. You have my sincere wishes for success and happiness in your new endeavors. You will be missed.” – Maria Padavano, High Line Volunteer
“I am so proud of Danya. Six years ago she started as our receptionist, at a time when our organization consisted of five employees and operated out of a temporary office space in the Meatpacking District. Since then, she has helped expand the community around the High Line, skillfully taken on increasing responsibility, and tackled complex problems with unmatched determination and passion. Danya helped Josh and I build the organization that exists today. She embodies everything I love and that is special about the High Line. I will miss working side by side with her. MIT doesn't know how lucky they are.” – Robert Hammond, Co-Founder of Friends of the High Line