Sue Contreras and Heather Sandler | Photo: Laurel Sheridan

Meet the Membership Team: Sue & Heather!

Sue Contreras: Development Manager
Heather Sandler: Development Associate

1. This is the third year at the bandshell for both of you, aside from the performances what are you most looking forward to at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival 2019?

Sue: I’m really looking forward to working outdoors in beautiful Prospect Park. This is what I love most about my job – the fact that I can take a break from staring at a computer and get paid to do what I love at a festival. I am also looking forward to getting to know more of our members. It’s so fun to greet them at the gate every summer, hear about what’s new in their lives, see how much bigger their kids have gotten, etc. It’s also interesting to learn what shows people loved most and why, what artist they “discovered” at the Festival, as well as what shows surprised them. I love talking about music with people. It’s the best way to connect with someone.

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2. Where are you originally from, and how did growing up in that area influence the type of person you are today?

Sue: I’m from El Paso, Texas – a binational city on the U.S.-Mexico border that is literally a stone’s throw away from Ciudad Juarez. As a fronteriza this meant that I grew up with a magical mash-up of languages, music, and traditions, not to mention, amazing food! There is so much history where I’m from and the constant tug-of-war between cultures makes it a unique place to grow up and an incredible place to experience art. My dad’s family lived in Mexico and my mom is a second-generation American so I went back and forth a lot. For me, the constant reminders of the chaos of the Mexican Revolution, my grandfather’s stories of resisting racism and oppression – these are the things that molded me. This experience of the border has made me resilient and resourceful. It has also made me someone who values storytelling and playing an active role in my community.

Heather: I grew up in a small town in central New Jersey. Living the small town life where every store closed at 8pm definitely made me want to move to a bigger city. But more than the location, my parents really influenced me growing up. Both my mom and dad are extremely hard workers. My dad never ceases to amaze me with his lively energy and persistence, and my mom exemplifies compassion and generosity. What other dad would dance in The Nutcracker with his daughter, and how many moms would join in an astrology class too?

3. What prior opportunities and experiences led you to work for BRIC, a company that is massively involved in community, art, and, music?

Sue: I’ve been going to shows for just as long as I can remember; anything I could sneak my way into as a teen! After graduating from college, I started working to support my local music and arts scene in El Paso. Despite being a big city, there wasn’t always an infrastructure to support musicians and artists there, so we had to create it. My friends and I started a small block party – a mini community festival that was thrown for free– like the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival. This became an annual thing and grew into a massive event and a bunch of side projects. The goal was to give local artists and musicians – from both sides of the border – a place to play to bigger crowds, while creating a more visible platform for talking about some of the pressing issues happening along the border. Now El Paso has a lot going on in terms of its music scene. It was incredible to watch it grow and be a part of that growth.

Heather: I grew up dancing, doing classical ballet from middle school through high school. I then majored in Dance Performance and Choreography in college. When I moved to New York, I got injured. After dedicating so many years to dance, I had to discover a new passion and career direction, but I knew that the arts were always going to be a part of my career. Performing on stage and fundraising have more in common than I thought!

4. Heather, as a development associate you have had to work very closely with Sue. How has this impacted your experience here at BRIC?

I feel extremely fortunate to have Sue as my supervisor, friend, and mentor for the past two years. While she has helped me grow professionally in fundraising, the most important aspect she has instilled in me is to stand up for myself. She has led by example, and helped me see my value as an employee and person. Plus when we have free time, she teaches me Spanish!

5. The staff is quite a tight-knit group of people, what are some of your favorite memories from your work experiences at previous BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festivals?

Sue: We joke that the Festival is like summer camp for us. Some of my favorite memories are playing trivia as a group to kill time on rainy days and hanging out together after shows in the Friends Tent. It’s also great because we see a lot of the same seasonal folks every summer. I love catching up and hanging out with them after being apart most of the year. At the end of the season, we always have a day when we celebrate all together and even though everyone is exhausted from the summer, it’s an amazing way to close the season.

Heather: Honestly, after 31 shows each summer, they all blend together! Yet, working at the Festival is truly a bonding experience, from full-time BRIC staff, to security guards, interns, and volunteers. We all come together each and every show with passion and enthusiasm, and I’ve never felt this type of commitment from any other group of people for an entire summer. We all have each other’s backs.

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Heather dressed as Sue for Halloween 2018

6. What do you do during your free time when you are not at the bandshell?

Sue: In my free time I try and go to more shows, of course, and explore the city. There is still so much I haven’t done in this city and it is seemingly never-ending. I also try and support the local latinx community by attending events and programs, and keep up with friends and family. I have two dogs who are great at relaxing with me on my days off. This summer, my goal will be to spend more time at the beaches.

Heather: There are endless activates in NYC whether I am taking salsa dance classes (my newest endeavor) learning a new language, volunteering as a mentor, taking Pilates classes, meeting new people from around the world, or going to the Joyce Theater to see as much dance as possible! The opportunities are limitless here.

7. What are some performances that stand out from the past, and what shows are you looking forward to this year?

Sue: Some shows that stood out for me were definitely Mashrou Leila, Robert Glasper’s project, the Breeders, Antibalas, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I am really looking forward to Broken Social Scene, Celso Pina, and Nosaj Thing, Kimbra, Leikeli47, and Oddisee this summer. Also, I’m excited to see more artists that I’m not as familiar with. I’m always blown away by Brooklyn locals!

Heather: Shows that have stuck with me from the past include Dorrance Dance in collaboration with Toshi Reagon, Antibalas (everyone in the venue was dancing!), Gary Clark Jr., Amadou & Mariam, and Béla Fleck & the Flecktones. I choreographed a dance piece in college to Béla Fleck music, so it was amazing seeing them live. This season I’m looking forward to Tank and The Bangas, Celso Piña and Compagnie Hervé Koubi.

8. If you could make your own line-up for Celebrate Brooklyn, what artists would you choose?

Sue: Wow, this is a tough question. I’m so stuck in the 80s and 90s music-wise and my favs are no longer touring. But, I would love to see some record label showcases from Brainfeeder, Stones Throw, and Fania. Helado Negro, Frank Ocean, Built to Spill, Miguel, Julieta Venegas. Mogwai, Massive Attack, Bjork, Fiona Apple, Morrissey, Men I Trust, Princess Nokia, The Black Angels, Run the Jewels, This Will Destroy You, Isaiah Rashad, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Lee Fields & the Expressions. A Mars Volta reunion. Bauhaus is touring again. I could think about this forever.

Heather: I’m giving you a full dance line-up here! Netherlands Dance Theatre (legends!), Australian Dance Theatre, Dorrance Dance and A.I.M. I would also enjoy seeing works by choreographers Trey McIntyre, Jessica Lang, and Wayne McGregor. Lastly, throwing in a 180-degree shift here, the Puerto Rican band Calle 13, because I have been listening to their music recently!

9. What does your day-to-day look like as a development manager and how does that role play out during the summer at the Bandshell?

Sue: As a Development Manager, my job is to fundraise and build support for BRIC and for the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival. My day-to-day consists of a split of writing grants to foundations, government agencies and corporations and managing our membership programs. During the Festival, I get to interact everyday with our Friends members and foundation folks. This Festival takes a village, as they say, and our members are a HUGE part of that. It’s great to be able to get to know them and thank them in person for what they have helped make a reality for audiences across Brooklyn.

Heather: My main focus as a Development Associate is to be the point of contact for all members and their needs. The stewardship and customer service component is one of my priorities whether it is via phone, e-mail or in person. We have a lot of members for the festival, over 1,000, but I try and learn as many names as possible while providing them with positive interactions and experiences. We all know how rude customer service people can be, so I try and provide the opposite! Our members help keep our shows free and accessible for the community, so we truly couldn’t do it without their support.