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Meet the Art Producer: Ricardo Bentham

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Becoming an art producer gave me the opportunity to help these artists with the business aspects of their creativity. It was important to me to have a window into the other side of the business to better understand the creative process.
— Ricardo Bentham, Art Producer

Tax advisor, entrepreneur, and Jamaica, Queens resident Ricardo Bentham discusses his experience serving as an art producer for the Artist Commissioning Program. Ricardo talked with our Artist Commissioning Program Coordinator, Kelly Olshan, about experiencing the creative process and using his skills to become a resource for arts practitioners. For more about Ricardo, you can check out his full bio here.

Kelly: Tell us about yourself. What is your connection to Queens, and what made you want to become an art producer?

Ricardo: I am proud to say I’ve been a resident of Queens for the last 39 years. It’s where I’ve built my business and raised my children. Being a resident of an underserved community in Queens, originally, I didn’t believe I could make a life in the neighborhood. I thought it was necessary to be corporate, but Queens taught me entrepreneurship.

This community showed me that small businesses in the neighborhood are mainstream, to us, in the same way corporate America is. It provides the resources for my livelihood.  My roots are planted in Queens. I’m a part of the fabric of Queens and I embrace that wonderful mosaic. Queens has produced a lot of excellent artists and I’ve always been inspired by what this community can produce. Art opens up the joy in people and allows me to see life through someone else’s eyes.

When my two daughters were younger, they participated in a traveling dance company, KECDE.  They performed all over Queens and all over the country.  The time that I spent with them at their performances and developing fundraising strategies for the group gave me the opportunity to bring my business expertise to their art form—for me, it was the beginning of having these two worlds collide.  

Becoming an art producer gave me the same opportunity to help these artists with the business aspects of their creativity.  It was important for me to have a window into the other side of the business to better understand the creative process.  

Kelly: As an accountant and an entrepreneur, how have you used your skill sets to assist the program’s artists?

Ricardo: As an accountant and entrepreneur, I’ve had some clients over the span of my career who have been artists.  I’ve served as an agent for the artists in their business endeavors.  I want to ensure that they are adequately represented and have protected their interests and the work that they produce.  

With the Artist Commissioning Program’s artists, my goal is to help them understand the financial process. It may include budgeting, staying in compliance, working with the IRS, bookkeeping, and payroll. I want the artists to know that the work they produce has value and it can produce money; thus, it must be treated as business.

Kelly: You’ve been instrumental in helping put on arts programming in Jamaica, Queens. What was it like to work with an artist in this way, and did you learn anything about the creative process in doing so?

Ricardo: Working with the artists has been a wonderful and reflective experience.  It’s been helpful in making a connection with experiences I had with my children in the past and how impactful art and dance was on my children’s lives. Through working with this program, I’ve learned that art has helped me be an involved parent and supportive of my children and their endeavors.  

I’ve also really enjoyed seeing and being consumed by another person’s reality through working with the artists during their creative process. It has been interesting to watch them paint their reality and make it into art that entertains people. I’ve been utterly impressed by these artists’ creativity. I envy being able to make the connections they do. My mind works differently than the artists I’ve worked with.  For me, I’m very literal: if it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense. But artists aren’t limited in that way; they have ingenuity, originality, and imagination.

Kelly: What projects are you working on now?

Ricardo: Queens Council on the Arts' Artist Commissioning Program and Tax Season 2018!

Kelly: Ricardo is also working with Queens Council to plan more Artist Commissioning Program events in Jamaica.

Stay tuned for more details! 

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Funding the Individual Artist

Getty/Hero Images

Getty/Hero Images

Background

As an arts administrator, my mission is to support individual artists. In graduate school, I was always the person to advocate for the creative: in mock copyright cases, in class debates. When it was time to choose an arts organization to study—to interview, to write about, to research—I always chose those ones that serve individual artists.

Post-graduation, this is how I ended up at Queens Council on the Arts, managing a program where I get to work with artists directly via the Artist Commissioning Program. This new initiative brings in a group of art producers, or community members that select the awardees and engage with their artistic process, as well as grants performing artists a $10,000 commission.

Which brings me to taxes.

Money, Money, Money

As a small arts council based in Queens, New York, this is our first time granting out such a large amount of money to individual artists: our primary granting program, Queens Art Fund, distributes $2,500 to artists (among slightly larger organizational grants).

Given that we are new to this space, our Executive Director, Hoong Yee Krakauer, discussed our new project out in the world. Energized from a recent Americans for the Arts conference, she returned to the office with a new idea: Rather than distributing the $10,000 in one lump sum, what if we explored other options? she asked.

The Question

With options, came questions: What are the potential tax implications for our artists? How can we structure this grant to minimize artists’ tax burden? What can and can’t we do as an organization with 501c3 status?

I wanted to know how other grantmaking organizations handle this, and what the best practices in the field are when it comes to fiscally supporting creative practitioners.  Specifically, we had an artist who wanted to use his grant to purchase a piece of equipment. Could we use our nonprofit status to purchase this piece of equipment, and thus save money on sales tax?

Inadvertently Uncovering a Knowledge Gap

Embarking on my research project, I was shocked how many people didn’t know the answer to this question. Executive directors of esteemed NYC-based arts organizations gave me answers like, “I’m not sure, we don’t give grants of that nature,” or, “Good question… let me know what you find out.” One cultural leader brazenly said something to the effect of, “I would just do it until you’re told otherwise.”

What Do Most Arts Organizations Do?

To get some answers, I talked to arts administrators who work or have worked for a variety of arts organizations in this space—including Creative Capital, Creative Time, Doris Duke Artist Awards, and New York Foundation for the Arts who helped answer these questions (and to whom I am grateful for their willingness to share).

In doing so, I found two major trends: 

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Trend #1: Just Send the Money

From my research, it seems like most funders write artists a check and call it a day. This is especially true of arts councils, or other organizations such as New York Foundation for the Arts that are issuing under $10,000 to artists.  This is certainly the easier approach administratively, and arguably makes more sense when you’re dealing with smaller amounts of money that do not have large tax implications.

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Trend #2: Use The Calendar Wisely

When you start to issue larger sums of money, the game changes. Creative Capital and Doris Duke Artist Awards, who issue up to $50,000 and $275,000 in funds to individual artists, respectively, allow artists receive it over to multiple years, which enables artists to better manage their awards’ tax ramifications.

Key Takeaways

Here are some other key takeaways I found in talking to cultural leaders:

  • Grants are considered income, and taxed as such. In other words, if an artist usually makes $30,000 a year, and then receives a $30,000 grant in 2018, they made $60,000 in 2018.
  • Distributing funds over multiple years can help artists minimize their tax burden. To extend the earlier example, let’s say that the same artist receives a $30,000 grant, but is able to receive $15,000 of it in 2018, and the other $15,000 in 2019. This will help them stay in the $45,000 tax bracket both years, rather than being taxed in the $60,000 bracket one year.
  • You can sometimes use your organization’s 501c3 status to save on sales tax.
    • When you can: If your organization is producing an artist’s event or project, you can use your 501c3 status. For example, Creative Time has used their tax-exempt status to purchase things like art supplies for their projects.
    • When you can’t: You cannot use your organization’s 501c3 status to buy things for other people. For instance, at QCA, we were considering purchasing a piece of equipment for an artist directly, using the funds from their grant, but were advised against it.
  • The organization’s role—of producer, presenter, or funder—impacts the fiscal relationship with the artists, and thus what you can do from a tax perspective:

Can We Do More?

Most arts organizations start out by hosting a speaker to go over tax issues for their grantees. They go over the basics, then, after the session, the advice is then to seek out additional counsel.

At face value, this sounds perfectly reasonable. But broken down, that means artists have about 30 minutes – 1 hour of information on one of the most complex and personal subjects around.

Moreover, one workshop says nothing of the following issues:

  • If artists can afford to hire an accountant: Most would probably opt to spend the money on necessities or arts-related items.
  • Tax ramifications are so highly individualistic. Should you accept all the funds now? Depends on how much you make. What income should I declare this year? Depends on your expenses.
  • Artists’ projects also change and evolve with the creative process. Wouldn’t it be great if artists had someone to check in with about the financial implications of their decisions?

Yes, these are systemic issues—but is it not our jobs to try to address their impact on the cultural sector?

At Queens Council, we’ve paired a group of art producers with with our grantees—two of whom are CPAs! They’ve been kind enough to offer their continuous council to the artist awardees, and we’ve found it to be one effective way to build advisors into creative production.

I would push arts organizations to become more comprehensive, supportive infrastructures: to go beyond the administrative short cut of writing a check. Enabling artists to receive funds over multiple years is a good start, but I think we can do more. How? By using the very creative problem solving that inspired us to enter the field in the first place.


Disclaimer: I am by no means a tax expert! Just one arts administrator sharing what she found in hopes it will be helpful. For issues pertaining to your specific organization, I must give the same advice that many of us give to artists: seek out a financial advisor or tax lawyer!


Kelly Olshan, Artist Commissioning Program Coordinator
kellyolshan.com / instagram: @kellyolshanfineart

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How to Build an Arts Renaissance in Astoria

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

Aki Todic loves art.

That is the first thing you sense when you walk into the Graffiti House , his building located in the heart of the Astoria waterfront arts scene.

Graffiti House

Graffiti House

Graffiti House serves as a rotating art gallery and features a 9-story vertical art installation within the elevator visible through a custom glass viewing wall, parking garage mural walls, and towering 7-story south facade mural, as well as curated artwork throughout the lobby and hallways.

“Every building we do is slightly different. Contributing art back is the best thing we ever did. Having art is a win win. That is the way I feel about art in real estate.” Aki flashes a boyish grin and says, “Astoria will be known for its waterfront.

“I like to say there are a million dollar views from Manhattan, and billion dollar views from Astoria. No one can compete with the views from the Astoria waterfront.”

Aki is one of a select group of Community Champions being feted by the Queens Council on the Arts at the upcoming Caribbean Carnival 2018 Gala.

Tell me about your business

“My family came here from Yugoslavia and over the past 15 years, we built AKI into vertical company focusing on development, property management, interior design by building other businesses that include trades such as HVAC, plumbing, electrical contracting, etc.

My dad was a manufacturer in Yugoslavia and became a super in Flushing where he noticed that the lead time for getting kitchen cabinets was very slow. He began importing them from overseas sources and from that, I expanded into doing tile work, general contracting and expediting among other businesses. By 2010, we had grown the business into real estate development.”

What is your interest in the arts?

“Take a look at the Welling Court Mural Project. Everybody loves it and that is what is really important to me - that our tenants are 100% happy. We keep seeing lots of people walking by appreciating the artwork. The outdoor arts project attracts a long list of art enthusiasts, including buses of Jewish women from Roslyn, Long Island! 

There is a positive exchange of energy that exists around these outdoor art experiences. Inside Graffiti House, we commissioned over 20 artists to paint installations inside the building and have another 40 artists work rotating throughout the common spaces of the building on a regular basis.

The artists were truly a pleasure to work with - they were happy to talk about their work, process and inspiration. Ruben, the Scandinavian mural artist who was commissioned to paint a giant 80-foot mural on the side of our building, showed me how he snapped a perfectly level chalk line to align his grid and suddenly I am in the throes of an art lesson. 

All of the artists we have worked with have a very professional business mentality, much like developers in a sense. In fact, the 20+ Graffiti House artists have many interests that coincide with ours - they are eager to learn important aspects in our industry such as building safety. In a way, artists are always doing something new for the first time. And just like them, I, too, am always learning.

Graffiti House is our first building in Astoria. We had plenty of people telling us we were crazy to be investing tens of thousands of dollars in artwork and incurring additional costs to support the work of these artists with scaffolding, materials, paint, etc. To me, those negative reactions came from people with a lack of vision with a fundamental misunderstanding about the power of art. But we have a long term vision for the area and supporting local artists is at the forefront of that movement.”

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As you grow your business, what are your thoughts about the arts in Queens at this moment in time?

“We will continue to develop along the Astoria waterfront - currently we have 6 buildings in various stages of predevelopment. I would love to see a cultural district created for the community along the waterfront and help strengthen the retail and commercial presence in the area.

My dream is to be a successful developer and to help change Astoria for the better.  With a long-term vision and help from artists, community leaders, and influential business owners, we can make Astoria the very best neighborhood on the East River.

Give back. It will come back to you a thousand times.

In 10 years, I’d like to be known for developing, owning and managing the best buildings in Astoria, Queens. We will strive to keep pushing ourselves to build better and better buildings that are synonymous with quality, art & luxury. Ultimately we will work hard to fill in the gaps and needs of the community and bring positive energy to the neighborhood that has given me so much already.”

Keep doing what works.

About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

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She Bought a Building to Open Doors for Artists in Queens

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

Some say love makes the world go round.

Others believe art changes the world.

And in the power of artists who can connect people with humanity through their work.

Not simply in words, but in over a decade of work to successfully build an arts organization “that supports a community of artists and to buy a building as a permanent home for the performing arts in Queens,” says Sheila Lewandowski, the Executive Director of The Chocolate Factory , a space for experimental performing arts in Long Island City, Queens.

The Chocolate Factory

The Chocolate Factory

Sheila is one of a select group of honorees being feted by the Queens Council on the Arts at the upcoming Caribbean Carnival 2018 Gala.

Tell me about your work

I have worked in the arts as a performer, a writer, and as an actor. People comment how I approach management as an artist. This is something my team and I talk a lot about - that these artistic experiences contribute to creating a structure that supports artists and allows for creative and critical thinking. Actually, the more interesting non-arts businesses are the ones that are creative and entrepreneurial at their core. As a performer, I was trained to perform the work of directors, authors and choreographers to connect people with their humanity.

As a child, the arts and STEAM were a part of my household. My mom painted and drew, there was always music and books in the house. My Dad was a scientist. My sisters and I were raised believing that the arts were a vital part of life. In fact, the way I knew summer had come was by hearing steel drums in the parks just under our windows. I never understood life any other way. And I was fortunate that arts education - ceramics, band, orchestra - was a part of the public school curriculum in NYC in the late 60s and early 70s.

I continue to explore writing and vocal training and still perform occasionally. It encourages empathy when you tap into the creativity in yourself. I feel I connect with other people and they feel it too.

At times, as a performer, I feel I tap into something, an experience where I am connected, where I find myself in the zone. Like love, you know it when you feel it. An artist with a high level of skill who can communicate humanity through and with their work is an artist with a capital “A”. Watching an artist with a high level of skill without this ability to connect is like watching a really good gymnastic routine. I am moved because I know I can’t do what they do, but the work doesn’t dig into my soul.

It is the desire to communicate that keeps you practicing. The arts is more than just a discipline. Artists with high levels of talent, discipline and activity can give others an experience, a new way to see the world through their art. Artists with a capital “A” communicate through the expression of their art.

All people are connected to the arts. You may not recognize it but no matter who you are, there is a poem, a song, a piece of art that will move you. People are drawn to these abstract expressions because of our basic human need to be connected.

Do you think art can change the world?

Art does change the world. Humanity does not exist without art. People do not connect or exist without art & culture. They may not be consciously aware of it.

Now, more than ever, we need greater understanding and support for the arts in our communities, to build greater empathy both nationally and internationally. As a society, we need to support art on a critical, rational and creative level for young people to seniors, for artists whose work we may not understand. We need to build these cultural ecosystems so we can remain connected and empathetic.

If you are making honest work in this time and in this place, you are creating a truthful expression of humanity. You may choose not to call it political or responsive or consider your work overtly political but I often say, you don’t have to run for office to be engaged but you should vote.

Everything you do is part of the process, part of the world you live in. Even a level of disengagement is a statement and an expression of your environment.

As you grow your career, what are your thoughts about the arts in Queens at this moment in time?

The new space for The Chocolate Factory

The new space for The Chocolate Factory

“I used to say, and I still believe, “Queens is the innovation borough” because here you see the ground up work of so many artists, businesses and many artists live here. Take our work starting with The Chocolate Factory, we were responding to a need in the borough where we lived. At that time, there were not many performance venues or rehearsal spaces. Why should people have to leave Queens to do this work?

Queens is a borough of neighborhoods, pride of place runs deeply in every community. Where are the places for artists to communicate with each other in this borough? This is why we are opening our new site, a 7,500-square-foot facility at 38-29 24th Street in Long Island City - to give this neighborhood and borough a space for arts and culture to be permanent, where people can gather to communicate, to share culture and ideas that can evolve into share expressions of humanity.

We have an opportunity to “stop the bleeding of the tides” in areas where there are huge developments underway, such as Western Queens, Jamaica and Flushing. How can we plan and build for shared community spaces to support the artists and the culture already there? How can we support the arts in neighborhoods to grow beyond destinations and become part of their daily lives? How do we maintain studio spaces, live/work spaces? Is there a way we can keep artists and artisans here? Where ever you live as an artist, here are some simple steps you can take to connect with your community and bring what matters to you to their attention:

  1. Make a list of your local elected officials
  2. Find out when your community board meeting takes place
  3. Show up and say, “I’m an artist, I live here and I vote, “ “Hey, we’re all part of this community and I’m concerned we don’t have a cultural space.”
  4. Keep in touch with them. This is a long process but worth it.

Part of my hope for the borough of Queens when it comes to the support of and expansion of services for artists, the arts and for arts in communities is because we have a Borough President with a lifelong history of connection to the arts. Her parents left a legacy in the borough and Borough President Melinda Katz is continuing to work to make sure that all residents and families in the borough have access to arts, arts education, cultural activities; and she supports programs hi-lighting and respecting the many cultures that help to make Queens rich and a great place to live, work and visit.

In fact, the acquisition of the building for a permanent Chocolate Factory was made possible, in part, because of her support, that of the late Helen Marshall and my Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who is one of the greatest champions of artists, arts and culture in NYC.

I’m excited we are building this new venue as a permanent home for the performing arts in Queens. Many people from every part of the city have been calling me to ask me how we did this. Next month, I am going to be giving 2 presentations at The Chocolate Factory with a Q & A to share the story of our journey which can be summed up as ’patience and perseverance.’”

We Bought a Building - a Discussion and Q & A Monday, January 22, 2018, 6:00 PM

We Bought a Building - a Discussion and Q & A Friday, January 26, 2018, 6:00 PM

About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

Follow HoongYee on Instagram

Follow HoongYee on Twitter

Follow HoongYee on Facebook

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A Soul Crooner from Queens

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

“I focus on making things. If I walk into a room with no music, I’m going to build an unforgettable experience for someone.”

“I know a place...”

For Paul Loren, a crooner and songcrafter from Queens, that place can be a room with no music where he will create an unforgettable experience for someone.

That place can be a time in the 50’s and 60’s where soul, rhythm & blues and the American Songbook filled the rafters of the Brill Building in New York City, the birthplace of a distinctive style and sound Paul embodies.

That place can be moving through the dense and diverse suburbs of Queens and the city, writing music inspired by the influences, vibrancy and cultures surging through the No. 7 train as it embarks on its daily American gothic journey from Flushing, Queens to Times Square.

That place can be a neat 15 mile radius of inspiration radiating from a place he proudly calls home, Kew Gardens in Queens.

Paul is one of a select group of Community Champions being feted by the Queens Council on the Arts at the upcoming Caribbean Carnival 2018 Gala.

Tell me about your work

“For me, music is an energy exchange between people, something I inject positivity into with hope that it will make some impact on their daily life.

I care about the vocal heritage of the 50s and 60s, about recording to tape, having everyone in the same room making music the old way. All of this speaks in the result, not only can you hear it, you can feel it. Having this tradition is like having an infrastructure where you can add something of yourself and make something new.

I grew up listening to my mom’s 45s. I liked the feeling of records, the sound of the music. You could say I was a toddler DJ. I’m self taught, I play the piano and I played violin in school. Music is something I knew I wanted to do forever.”

Do you think art can change the world?

“Undeniably. Remember the cultural revolution in the 1960s? It changed the world then as it will continue to change the world now through more divisive times. I believe in optimism and its inherent potential to positively influence peoples’ outlook.”

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As you grow as an artist, what are your thoughts about the arts in Queens at this moment in time?

“Queens is the real version of New York with all different kinds of people and all kinds of energy. My music wouldn’t be what it is without New York and specifically, Queens. Living in Kew Gardens gives my music meaning and a sense of place between 2 extremes - the suburbs and the city. There is something special about the artists in Queens. There’s this sax player I know from Astoria and he just plays differently than other sax players - he’s got this ‘Queens tinge’. Geography, place and time affects my music and how I write music.

I like to think of my life as an act of construction. To build something from scratch, from a spark of an idea, from a room with no music. And to craft something something that is unforgettable for someone.

In the next 5 to 10 years, I want to expand my audience, play in new places to new people. Although my musical influences include the Shirelles, the Drifters, Carole King, I want to be part of creating a contemporary music culture.

I identify myself as a Queens singer/songwriter. I am very proud of that.”

Here’s how to find out more about Paul:

Instagram: @paullorenmusic

Facebook: hwww.facebook.com/paullorenmusic

Website: www.PaulLoren.com

About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

Follow HoongYee on Instagram

Follow HoongYee on Twitter

Follow HoongYee on Facebook

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A Local Champion of Heritage Clothing in Queens

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

Ana Stone loves a good message.

And a good story behind everything she makes.

Armed with a breadbox sized Cornely chain stitch machine with a foot powered motor and hand crank operated device that embroiders a linking chain on fabric, Ana can be found sharing her skill with people at events and in The Stonework, her own boutique nestled between a barber shop and a Japanese restaurant on Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria, Queens.

Ana is one of a select group of Community Champions being feted by the Queens Council on the Arts at the upcoming Caribbean Carnival 2018 Gala.

The Stonework, 37-6 Ditmars Blvd, Astoria, NY 11105

The Stonework, 37-6 Ditmars Blvd, Astoria, NY 11105

Tell me about your business

The Stonework was originally a classic menswear boutique carrying heritage apparel and goods that celebrate the history of American workwear. We carry brands that have become American institutions in clothing; like Schott Brothers - noted for inventing the motorcycle jacket and for being the first company to put a zipper on a jacket, Red Wing Shoes, who have been making work boots in America since their first pairs of Iron Rangers in 1905, as well as local brands including Left Field NYC located in Ridgewood, Queens, who source some of their raw selvedge denim from the last remaining denim mill in the United States, the Cone Mills White Oak plant in Greensboro, NC.

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I opened the store on my own, and didn’t realize how involved my husband would become. Now I consider him my business partner. He is a blue collar guy who believes in the importance of supporting American made products. When he isn’t selling jeans in our shop, he’s working the fights where he’s a cutman for various Muay Thai and boxing events. People are so surprised to find out he also works full time underneath NYC in manholes for Con Edison where he puts the quality of the clothing we sell to the test.

After being unhappy working for someone else and a trip to Moab, Utah, a truly mystical place, we decided to set up shop and opened The Stonework a few months later on October 1, 2016.”

Buy Colchester and get a story with your sneakers!

Buy Colchester and get a story with your sneakers!

Talk to me about denim

We sell raw, selvedge denim in our shop. Raw refers to the finish on the denim, or lack there of. Raw denim is denim it its original state. It has had no washes or treatment and it is up to its wearer to break it in and create a pattern of fades entirely unique to the person wearing them. The selvedge refers to the self finished edge of the fabric, where the denim was locked into the loom.

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It’s ironic,” Ana shakes her head with a smile. “Denim experienced a boom post WWII, as the market changed from utility to fashion. The narrow shuttle looms that produced the selvedge denim couldn’t keep up with the new demand and the selvedge was lost in order to produce jeans at a higher volume. Japan ended up buying a lot of the American looms that could produce selvedge denim, and to this day, some of the best denim comes out of Japan on old American machinery. There is one remaining denim mill left in the entire United States, the Cone Mills White Oak plant, in Greensboro, NC and they are unfortunately closing their doors at the end of this year, but we are proud to carry jeans made out Cone Mills denim at The Stonework. We are so fortunate to have the customer who appreciates US made clothing with history and tradition behind it. We love being a local business supporting real people. That is what our customers love about us.”

What is your interest in the arts?

“I come from a family of artists and was always encouraged to be creative. I dropped out of FIT’s fashion design program and got a great job as an editorial stylist, I did some visual merchandising, working with a lot of artists to create product displays and after I had my first daughter, I went back to work at a small boutique in Astoria, Queens as the buyer and manager. After having kids, I decided I needed to be my own boss, and I went out on my own. I had no idea that opening my own store would also lead to me becoming a full time chain stitcher.

An original piece by Ana Stone.

An original piece by Ana Stone.

his jacket is an example of something I wanted to do. For every few commissioned pieces I get, I made it a rule to take a break and do something of my own idea and design. Chain stitch embroidery is an old world process, what’s interesting to me, and to many people, is how it has become art. Chain stitch embroidery is how all embroidery was done prior to computers, it was a trade and served a utilitarian function. You saw a lot of business advertising on clothing, sports teams and logos being embroidered. I like to bring my machine out to events because it is so hard for people to wrap their minds around the fact that the embroidery I create is not computer generated or hooked up to a computer somehow. It is a machine with a foot powered motor, gear mechanisms and all the work is guided by a hand crank that controls the direction of the needle. I only know 1 man who can repair my machine and he’s in his seventies. There is a huge generational gap between guys like him and people like me. The machines are all very old, they don’t make them anymore and are very rare, but fortunately, I am seeing a resurgence of chain stitchers in New York and across the country. 

Although the store started out carrying only menswear, I started to get a lot of requests from women so now I carry clothing for women as well, including some of those American brands like women’s Schott Perfecto motorcycle jackets and Red Wing Heritage women’s shoes. Custom embroidery is a huge part of my business, especially for women. Around 80% of my custom embroidery customers bring me a favorite garment and want something specific embroidered for them. Since it’s hard for people who don’t embroider to understand what will translate well to chain stitch embroidery, my favorite customers are the ones who say ‘this is what I want it to say, but I trust you to do it how it will look best.’ This past year I have been asked to do many women centric themes, a lot of RESIST, NEVERTHELESS SHE PERSISTED, A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE RESISTANCE on vintage cameo jackets, bags and jeans. I embroidered over 100 ‘#METOO’ patches and gave some to every womens’ boutique in the area for them to give away free, only asking for donations to support the Joyful Heart Foundation. One girl asked me, ‘Can I take some for my friends too? We all need these...’ It was so empowering and bittersweet. Embroidery can make a powerful visible contribution and I was so honored I could give these to other people and continue important conversations and make connections amongst strangers.”

Do you think art can change the world?

“Yes. All art can say something. Being able to write it out and wear it is meaningful to me. Having a powerful message on the streets is inspiring to me and I’m so glad to be a part of it. People will tell me, ‘I saw a girl wearing one of your jackets and want one.’ I love seeing people wear one of my pieces. It’s like having a little embroidered army walking on Ditmars Boulevard.”

What are your thoughts about the arts in Queens at this moment in time?

“I think huge strides are being made in Queens. In the past year, I have seen a large number of new makers popping up. There is a great new market called the Queens Craft Brigade that features all Queens based makers and artists. A lot of the independently owned retail shops here in Astoria all ban together and organize retail crawls and events for the community, and tons of us support local makers and artisans by selling their products or hosting pop up shops for them to display their goods.”

In your opinion, what is the distinction between being an artist and being a maker?

“My husband just told me the other day how he wants to have a skill like I have, to be able to make something to give to someone. James is a hat guy, so we signed up to take a millinery class at FIT, and soon he’ll be adding bespoke hats to The Stonework arsenal. I think that’s the distinction, that makers create things with a purpose, things that are meant to be used as well as being aesthetically pleasing. That’s why I love embroidery so much, I can be both an artist and a maker, and have something to say.

Want to see more?

Check out The Stonework on Instagram

About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

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Wisdom from a Local Arts Leader in Queens

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

On a quiet street in Astoria, just a blink away from the Kaufman Studios and the Museum of the Moving Image, a new art space opened its doors as a place to create things by hand. AlterWork Studios, opened by Tina Stipanovic, an artist and arts leader in Queens, is a place where artists can rent studios, collaborate, exhibit, work independently or learn a new skill, came into being in the summer of 2017.

Tina is an artist, a graduate of Parsons School of Design with an MFA in Fine Arts, and a restless collaborator who actively looks for people to work with “to better the place I live in” by bringing in new artists.

In this interview, I asked Tina the following questions:

What has given you the greatest joy in your work and why?

I think it’s important to give a platform to others who may not have one. And by platform, I mean a place to work, perform or exhibit such as in the Kaufman Arts District (KAD) Backlot Art Festival that I created last year, the events I have been curating at RaR Bar and now at AlterWork.

What have been your greatest challenges?

Finding your voice as an artist is getting more difficult. On social media, you find that everyone is claiming to be a creative. With so many people making so much noise, it is hard to be heard.

Another challenge is synchronizing the way I approach the world as an artist and as a business person. It is not easy to survive, to stay true to your art and to be creative. I have been navigating this for the past 10 years and the finer the distinction between the two, the more successful I feel I’ve become. Art is very personal and RaR, even though it is a business, it is also a platform where great things can happen, too. The kitchen and the stage are places for performances where my creative thinking and love of art can benefit others as well.

For everything I do, whether it is running AlterWork Studios or the KAD Backlot Art Festival, I have to approach it with a pragmatic eye of a business person in order to benefit others but it also has to be something I, as an artist, can be proud of. It’s a lot of juggling between my left and right side of the brain. 

What would make my job easier would be to delegate work and to keep reminding myself that it does more harm to me if I take on too much myself. Sometimes things may not work out. At the end of the day it is about balancing the workload with the quality of the work and that is the most important thing to maintain as a priority.

As you grow, what are your thoughts about the arts field at this moment in time?

Queens is really big. The size of the borough is a challenge. There are many hubs of artists and creativity but we are all disconnected. The role of artists and their needs haven’t changed. Artists still flock to places they can belong but these sites are silos. We need to find ways to create more connections and opportunities to collaborate across the borough. For example, how great would it be for the KAD Backlot Art Festival to work together with the Queens Museum or the Flux Factory to be part of what we all are doing and create even bigger things?

There is a lack of connective tissue.

People need smaller spaces where they can be heard. I come from Pula, a town in Croatia with a population of 500,000. Whenever there is a film festival or art event, the whole town attends. Everyone knows about it. This is harder to achieve in big cities but smaller hubs can collaborate with each other to create bigger events with great content. While working with the Kaufman Arts District, my motto is simple: residents must be given improvements and visitors to the District must be given good content. In other words, good reasons to visit and good reasons to stay.

What is the most important piece of advice you can give to your younger self?

I say, don’t worry.

Work hard.

Mind your business.

Keep at it.

Keep learning.

Keep the quality of what you do high. Don’t give in.

I believe it is important for people to create. Humans are, in essence, toolmakers who create ways to survive and to improve their surroundings in an ever evolving world. Whether these tools are ideas or physical objects made with your own hands, we make life better for people when we think and create.

About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

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What it was like to create work in the hotel for the 2017 ArtHotel artists

As QCA launches the 2nd round of the QCA's Residency Program, ArtHotel, we thought it would be great to give you some sort of perspective as to what it is like to work in a hotel for a 3-month period.

QCA Grant and Resource Director of the Queens Arts Fund, Lynn Lobell, interviewed last year's recipients of ArtHotel. The first Artist-in-Residence, Erin Treacy, set up her studio at the Paper Factory Hotel. Placed in the lobby, she worked in a very public environment,  As painter, she was responsible for breaking down her workspace following each studio session, securing her materials in a locked closet at the end of the day. For photographer and installation artist Jennifer Williams, her residency took place at the ZNYC Hotel, where she worked within a closed guest room. Jennifer's  workspace became not only her studio, but the location of a site-specific installation.

As you will see from the conversation, each hotel provided a very different and unique experience for each artist.

Erin Treacy

Erin Treacy

Jennifer Williams

Jennifer Williams

Lynn: Did the residency meet your expectations? 

Erin: Yes, overall the residency provided space and financial assistance to work on a new body of paintings and drawings. Prior to commencement, I was interviewed by the Paper Factory and was able to see the space, which was sectioned off from the main lobby but also very public. This was a new way to work, with an ongoing open studio process, yet it was nice that visitors were able to see the studio process that leads to the art. It took a little while to get used to, but once I was going things were great. Occasionally someone would ask questions, but really they were just observing so it was not interrupting. Since it is an open space I would keep my materials in a separate closet, The Paper Factory's arts manager would meet me to assist in set up and break down. At first (being the first resident) it was a little difficult figuring out when to go. Once I set up a regular schedule then the manager and I were able to easily meet to set up space. 

Jennifer: Yes! For me, the residency was about being given a space to work in that was outside my normal routine, something new to inspire me.  

Lynn: What was it like working in a hotel environment? Were you able to meet the goals that you set?

Erin: It was definitely a change. I have done several residencies mostly in secluded environments, so it is surprising the questions that did arise from hotel guests. I had planned to work on small colleges and drawings while there, but ended up working on canvases because the hotel had easels and there was not a place to work on a wall (brick and glass), however, the change was welcomed, as it challenged my usual studio practice.  

Jennifer: It was a unique experience, unlike any other residency I’d participated in before. I had an entire room to myself and time to sit and let the work grow organically, which was a main goal. Hotels are such transient spaces with guests streaming in and out. I think the tourist vibe pushed my work in ways I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. I definitely exceeded the goals I set. I'd say my biggest challenge is feeling aware of the room as a hotel room; not an "official" studio space. Therefore keeping it clean and blemish free are always on my mind. And trying to not disturb the guests.

Lynn:  What advice would you pass along to the next recipients of the ArtHotel Residency?

Erin: Make a schedule at the beginning if you are required to meet with a hotel personnel to begin your workday. I set up two days a week I would come in and that made it easier to know I was not going to have to be exchanging constant communication about when I would be in that week. If you do not like your picture taken, it could be a bit difficult. The hotel guests are all visitors, often European tourists, and they do take lots of photos of you in the process of the making. This was difficult for me at first, as I am not a person who’s used to it, but again, I did get used to it so it was a learning experience - like a constant open studio. Think about your studio process, if you need to leave everything out from one visit to the next, this may be difficult for you, visit the space and see if it can work for you.

Jennifer: Get settled in as soon as possible and make the most of your time! For me that meant bringing the equipment I needed to the space and having them set up, ready to go on a whim. Also explore the neighborhood and talk to the hotel staff. One of the advantages of the residency is gaining new insight into your work by talking with people who wouldn’t normally see your work or aren’t clued into the art world at all.  

For the 2018 ArtHotel QCA will again be partnering with the Paper Factor Hotel located in Long Island City.  New to our residency hosts is the SpringHill Suites, LaGuardia located in Corona. 


If you are interested in applying to the  ArtHotel Residency,  check out the guidelines and eligibility here.

The deadline for submission is Monday, January 8, 2018, 5pm

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QCA Holds Queens Emerging Artists Business Prize Ceremony

This past Fall, High School to Art School program alumni have been working hard on their submissions for QCA’s first Emerging Artists Design Competition, sponsored by the building materials manufacturer Alfrex.

On the evening of November 29th, we hosted the contestants, Alfrex, and community members for the Business Prize Ceremony.  The artists shared their work, and the inspiration behind their designs, before we announced the winning designer, a recipient of the $3,000 prize. 

Afterwards, everyone was invited to share some delicious Korean food.  It was a great time, and I hope the first of many more!

QueensEmerging.png

I am so proud of all our contestants, and impressed by their design work.  Shanjida Kibria, the contest winner, is a current junior at the Parsons School of Design.  She also works as a designer for the Department of Sanitation. You can view some of her work online at https://shanjida.wixsite.com/shanjida

Hanna Washburn
HS2AS Program Coordinator

For more photos of the ceremony visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/qcanyc/albums/72157687897680572

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Meet the Art Producers: Introducing Margot Yale

Last month, two groups of seven Art Producers selected two artists to receive a $10,000 commission. In this series, we’ll get to know the individuals responsible for selecting and supporting our four Artist Commissioning Program Awardees. This week, Bayside native and emerging curator Margot Yale shares her experience with the program, discussing her arts background, love of Queens, and what it was like to help decide who received the commission (Margot’s group selected Judith Sloan and Chuan Xie’s projects).

Kelly: Tell us about yourself! What is your art background & relationship to Queens?

Margot Yale.jpeg

Margot: I grew up in Bayside, Queens, and I moved back to Queens about six months ago after graduating from college. Growing up here, I was immersed in the cultural landscape of the borough. I spent a lot of time as a child visiting the Queens Museum and, in several ways, I believe my passion for art derives from the central role the Museum played in my upbringing and my worldview reflects my experience of the cultural landscape of Queens. In high school, I participated and led community-engaged art projects and events at the Clocktower in Long Island City with No Longer Empty and at the Noguchi Museum. This was my introduction to civic-minded art practice and community-responsive exhibition making. In college, I studied art history and American Studies and began exploring curatorial work at the Princeton University Art Museum, the National Museum of American Jewish History, and the Whitney, and now work on the Collection and Exhibition Technologies team at MoMA. I come to the Artist Commissioning Program with a background in visual art and curatorial work and a passion for working with artists and community-engaged art.

Kelly: Why did you want to become an art producer?

It was important to me that we would be prioritizing untold and underrepresented stories. This is a fantastic learning experience to discover more about other artistic disciplines, affording me a stronger understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of modern and contemporary art, and to get to work closely with artists over an extended period of time.

Margot: One of the main catalysts for me in choosing to major in art history and pursue a career in curatorial work was those early experiences I had working on community-based art projects in Queens. Those projects taught me that the arts can be a conduit for telling stories and that without the arts, these narratives are often times otherwise left unsaid. When I saw an email to apply to the Artist Commissioning Program as an Art Producer, I recognized that this was my opportunity to jump back into this work. Having been away from Queens for four years, I also saw this program as an opportunity to reengage with the artistic community here. As an art historian, I’ve always admired artists of all disciplines and I knew that to be able to afford two artists the opportunity to create new works through these grants was really special. Moreover, in applying to this program it was important to me that we would be prioritizing untold and underrepresented stories. This is a fantastic learning experience for me to discover more about other artistic disciplines, affording me a stronger understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of modern and contemporary art, and to get to work closely with artists over an extended period of time. Over the next year, I hope to learn how to work alongside an artist in a creative and commissioning process and how to foster a stronger relationship with artists.

Kelly: What was it like being a part of a group responsible for selecting the commissioned artists?

Through the panel process, I learned how to make a judgment call on two vastly different works and how to determine whether a proposal could likely be executed in the given timeframe.

Margot: It was definitely exciting! One of the aspects I most enjoyed was learning from panelists with expertise in a particular discipline about what they identified as craft and innovation across the proposals. Working in a group to make these decisions, it was crucial to listen to the other voices in the room and I found that as our conversations unfolded, I started to look at certain proposals from an angle or viewpoint that I might not have reached on my own. I was pleasantly surprised by the frequency with which our group came to a consensus—for the most part, we all agreed on which proposals stood out. Through the panel process, I also learned how to make a judgment call on two vastly different works and how to determine whether a proposal could likely be executed in the given timeframe the artists have for this project.

Kelly: When reading artists’ submissions, what made an application stand out to you? What advice would you give to an artist applying for a grant?

My initial excitement about a written proposal had to be matched with highly professional work samples.

Margot: My initial excitement about a written proposal had to be matched with highly professional work samples for a submission to stand out to me. In reviewing the proposal, I needed to feel that the artist not only had this great idea, but that he or she had executed equally great ideas in the past. My piece of advice to an artist applying for a grant is that he or she not skimp on work samples, make sure they are accessible (i.e. not password protected, in an inaccessible format, etc.), and make sure that the media quality is high. Another factor was whether I learned something from the proposal. Given that one of our criteria was that the proposed work would elucidate something not currently visible in American culture, I felt most strongly when a proposal did indeed illuminate a story that was unknown to me. This also meant that the applications that most stood out to me were the ones where the artist had done substantial research or begun workshopping.

Kelly: How did you decide what works were not visible in American culture? What language did you find helpful in discussing these works?

Margot: If a proposal illuminated a story that was unknown to me, I found the work particularly compelling. If an artist’s application proposed a revision of a hegemonic or often uncontested aspect of American culture, I was inclined to feel strongly about the proposal. Judith Sloan’s project It Can Happen Here turns American Exceptionalism on its head and makes audible the voices of many Queens residents who can attest to the contrary. This was important too—that the proposal have a local specificity, speaking both to that which is invisible in Queens and that which is invisible in the United States. Another consideration was whether the proposed project advanced the American canon of its discipline. Chuan Xie’s project SHED pushes the boundaries of choreography, incorporating sculpture, costumes, and light, while speaking to a migrant experience often silenced in this country and in this borough.

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