Since 1956, on Saturdays during the summer, New York City´s children have clustered around Hans Christian Andersen´s statue near Conservatory Pond in Central Park to hear his and others’ fairytales, folk stories, and stories, told by a dedicated group of professional storytellers.
This initiative is run by the Hans Christian Andersen Storytelling Center, a New York not-for profit corporation, where the directors, officers and other volunteers contribute their free time to support the Storytelling Center. They rely on donations from special sponsors and the public in general to pay the story tellers and monitors.
Story telling at Central Park has been a clever idea to get stories into a child’s life. The stories we hear as children shape our view of the world. They inspire us and expand and enrich our little world. Children residing in cities sometimes live in quite a limited environment. Reading stories to children about extraordinary people and places broaden their world.
When one looks at the effects of reading fiction to children have on their social behaviour – they find it easier to understand other people who have different thoughts and feelings to us and show more empathy -, I wonder if bringing story telling to public spaces makes them even better future citizens for our cities? Because at public parks children with different societal and cultural backgrounds meet, interact and listen to the very same inspiring stories, which become an inherent part of their identity.
Central Park is certainly a fantastic enclave but it is that intangible cultural component built in cities what makes a good public space or a good public park to attract people, because it is also a way for citizens to understand each other better.