Hip to Hip Theatre Company has received a whopping 12 Queens Arts Fund (QAF) grants since 2009. Their focus is on presenting free professional performances of Shakespeare’s classics in Queens parks all over our vast borough. Artistic Director for Hip to Hip, Jason Marr, kindly took a moment to answer some questions for us about Hip to Hip and how QAF has helped shape their growth as the premiere producers of Shakespeare in the park in Queens.
Jason Marr (center) performing with Hip to Hip on the Long Island City waterfront
Hip to Hip has received several QAF grants over the years. What has been the most immediate, positive impact of receiving these grants?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, QAF helped us really get in the game. In 2009, the first year we received funding through QAF, we doubled the size of our programming and quadrupled our reach. In fact, even applying had a positive impact on our young organization because it pushed us to really examine our administrative structure, our short-term and long-term goals, and it allowed us to dream bigger. I am happy to give a lot of credit to QAF for helping us focus and expand our mission to include the whole borough of Queens.
Have your QAF grants opened up any opportunities for Hip to Hip beyond just the immediate impact of getting that sweet, green cash money?
Absolutely. Funding begets more funding. The most obvious opportunity funding from QAF opened up to us is avenues to other funding sources. When individual donors and foundations look at your organization and see that a local arts council is on your list of supporters, it gives you an advantage because they see that the organization is already on the road to sustainability and accountability. In other words, having QAF’s “stamp of approval” makes you a safe bet for other funders.
You perform at several public parks throughout the vast geography of Queens. Can you describe the impact your programming has had on each of these communities?
An important part of our mission is to bring professional cultural activity to those who would not otherwise have access to it. In order to achieve this, we do three things: (1) we try to target communities that are underserved; (2) our programming is free; and (3) our programming is held in public parks. Of these three, it is the “free” and “public parks” that makes all the difference, because we reach more than just the folks who may have seen our poster or received a flyer from a local civic organization, but we also reach a lot of people who just happen to be in the park that day. During a performance of Hamlet in Flushing Meadows two years ago, a group of teenagers on bikes stopped in their tracks when they stumbled upon our show in progress, and I’ll never forget the look of surprise on their faces, and I’ll never forget how they slowly laid their bikes on the ground and became engrossed in this live cultural community event.
Because we run a borough-wide tour, one of our biggest challenges is really connecting to each of the communities. Last year, we launched an outreach campaign that partnered us with the Community Boards in each of our target communities, which in turn partners us with over 100 civic organizations.
How is the 2015 season looking?
2015 promises to be our biggest and brightest yet. For our ninth year of programming, we will be touring our children’s workshop “Kids & the Classics” and our professional productions of The Merchant of Venice and The Merry Wives of Windsor to ten parks all over the borough from July 22 to August 16, and we anticipate reaching nearly 8,000 people.