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Test Your Limits: Advice From A Queens Arts Fund Grantee

 Members of the Eclipses Theater Group New York at the 2018 QAF Awards Ceremony

Members of the Eclipses Theater Group New York at the 2018 QAF Awards Ceremony

With the Queens Arts Fund application now open, we reached out to past grantees to tell us about their grant projects, what they hope to accomplish with their funding, and tips for anyone thinking of applying.

We spoke to Demetrios Bonaros of Eclipses Group Theater New York, a first-time grantee of the Arts Access Grant, about his experience applying to the Queens Arts Fund.


1. Tell us about your organization and what you do.

 Production view of “Agamemnon” by Aeschylus  Directed by Zishan Ugurlu, Presented at Ellen Stewart theatre La Mama E.T.C., Production of Eclipses Group Theatre NY & Actors Without Borders, 2016

Production view of “Agamemnon” by Aeschylus

Directed by Zishan Ugurlu, Presented at Ellen Stewart theatre La Mama E.T.C., Production of Eclipses Group Theatre NY & Actors Without Borders, 2016

Eclipses Group Theater New York (www.egtny.com) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit theater company that serves as a cultural bridge between Greece and the United States, promoting all forms of Greek drama, music, dance, poetry and literature. We focus on an exploratory approach of Greek and non-Greek classical and modern plays, presenting them to an international audience. We collaborate with Greek artists around the world and with artists of other ethnicities and cultures, developing a global, intercultural artistic dialogue.

2. What is your QAF project?

We are developing Hercules: In Search Of A Hero, a new theater piece that combines original material with elements of Euripides' plays Hercules and Alcestis. Through these plays' contrasting views of the quintessential Greek hero Hercules (who is alternately capable of glorious good and unspeakable evil), our production explores the meaning of heroism in our times.

3. How did you see this QAF grant helping you grow in your practice/for this project?

 Production view of “I Can't Pay! I Won't Pay! by Dario Fo”  Directed by Ioanna Katsarou & Christos Alexandridis, Presented at the Hellenic Cultural Centre of Archdiocesan in Astoria Queens. Production of Eclipses Group Theatre NY, 2015

Production view of “I Can't Pay! I Won't Pay! by Dario Fo”

Directed by Ioanna Katsarou & Christos Alexandridis, Presented at the Hellenic Cultural Centre of Archdiocesan in Astoria Queens. Production of Eclipses Group Theatre NY, 2015

Needless to say, the financial support that QAF grants provide is invaluable for Queens-based organizations. In preparing our applications, we made a conscious decision to pitch an ambitious project that will challenge us to stretch as artists, taking some greater artistic and producing risks that, we hope, will also result in greater visibility for Eclipses. We are honored to be QAF-grant recipients, and we look forward to the challenge!

4. Were there any surprises you ran into while applying for the grant? Do you have any advice for organizations applying for a QAF grant? 

Grant-writing can often seem onerous, but we found the QAF process to be quite reasonable and smooth. The grant requirements were well documented, the application asked engaging questions, and the QCA team was very helpful. To other organizations applying for a QAF grant, we would recommend that they read the guidelines carefully and not be afraid to ask questions if anything is unclear; aim to have everything drafted early so that they have time to review and revise; and not wait until the very end to submit, lest a last-minute technical difficulty derail their entire campaign! We would also encourage future applicants to test their limits, envision a challenging project and share that vision in their application.


Applications for the Queens Arts Fund are now open. To learn more about the grants, visit the site here

Interested in serving on a QAF Panel? Learn more here

Any questions? Contact Dan Bamba, Grants and Residencies Manager at dbamba@queenscouncilarts.org

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Miho Ogai, SU-CASA Artist-in-Residence

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Miho Ogai, SU-CASA Artist-in-Residence

The SU-CASA Artist-in-Residence program places artists at senior centers across New York City for the purpose of improving the quality of life of our city’s elders through the arts. 2018 SU-CASA Artist-in-Residence Miho Ogai is a glass artist based in Long Island City. For the past 6 months she has worked with seniors at Samaritan Daytop Village Neighborhood Senior Center in Woodside. Miho shared some of her experiences with the SU-CASA program and the impact that it has had on her and her students:
 

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Why do you think programs like SU-CASA are important?

I believe SU-CASA artists help to bring something new and enhance seniors’ daily lives by bringing their artistic knowledge and skills. During my workshops, my students were challenged to work on new projects every week and to expand their creativity. I was very impressed by how much they have improved on their ideas and skills. Many of them seemed to discover their hidden talents!

 

What was the best thing about teaching in the SU-CASA program?

I had many amazing moments with my students! It always felt so rewarding when I saw my students’ eyes lit up after completing their projects. Many of my students shared with me that my classes inspired them and triggered them to take their painting skills in new direction. Some of the students asked me to give them extra materials so that they could work at home. My students improved and expanded their creativity and produced amazing pieces during the last half term of my workshops. I am proud to have had what feels like such a positive impact on their lives.

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What did you work on with your students?

My senior students were very skilled at traditional oil painting. But I wanted them to expand their creativity beyond the traditional oil painting. I taught them how to make art with glass and they were able to learn enameling and sandblasting, as well as being able to apply their previous skills to painting on glass. As they made progress, I gave my students advanced projects that dealt with transparency of glass, illusion, and creating the effects of glass and light such as shadow and mood.


What would you tell another artist about the SU-CASA program?

I would tell another artist that SU-CASA is an amazing program that connects artists and seniors. I believe that art can have a very positive impact in seniors’ lives. I didn’t expect that my abilities could help them in the ways that they did.  What I learned through the program opened another door in my life as well when it comes to teaching older adults. I would definitely encourage another artist apply to SU-CASA program.

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Podcast: Aging in Place through a Creative Lens

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Podcast: Aging in Place through a Creative Lens

On May 15, 2018, QCA hosted its first conference on creative aging, "Aging in Place through a Creative Lens." The conference brought together artists, arts educators, social services workers, city government representatives, and arts program funders. Hear what some the event's attendees and planning partners had to say about the impact of the conference on our latest podcast.

Planning committee members for "Aging in Place through a Creative Lens" included Rochdale Village Neighborhood Senior Center, Jewish Community Relations Council, Visiting Nurse Services of New York, Elders Share the Arts, RPGA Studio, Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, AHRC, Lifetime Arts, Sterling National Bank, and Coffeed.

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SU-CASA @Bayswater Senior Center

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SU-CASA @Bayswater Senior Center

The SU-CASA Artist-in-Residence program places professional artists in residence at senior centers across New York City in an effort to use the arts to improve the quality of life of our older adults. 2018 SU-CASA Artist-in-Residence Shenna Vaughn is a visual artist based in Jamaica, Queens. She creates abstract and representational 3D work on canvas and recently finished teaching a painting class at Bayswater Neighborhood Senior Center in Far Rockaway. Shenna shared what her experience as a SU-CASA Artist-in-Residence was like:
 

 Shenna Vaughn and her students

Shenna Vaughn and her students

"Programs like SU-CASA are important because it brings life to the community and its elders. The seniors discover amazing talents and gifts they never knew they had and often mention how therapeutic and healing making art has been for them. My students worked on contemporary art- mixed media, abstract, figurative, landscape and representational paintings. Our final event was an exhibition of over 40 works of art from more than 20 seniors.

The best part about teaching in the SU-CASA program is being able to see the growth in the seniors from the first class to the last and the love and joy that they express as they create.

The one thing I would tell another artist is that the SU-CASA experience is one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences you can ever have. The wisdom and love that you receive from the seniors are priceless. This is an experience that I think every artist should have."

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See more photos from the final event on our Flickr page.

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Views from both sides of the Queens Arts Fund

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The Queens Arts Fund awards grants to individual artists and organizations to fund the creation of new works and distinctive arts and cultural programming that directly serves the citizens of Queens. 

Applications are now open, and we've asked some members of the arts community who have gone through the QAF cycle to share some insights about the grant program and the panel selection process.

Sherese Francis has been involved with many different programs here at Queens Council on the Arts, taking part in Creative Conversations, the Emerging Leaders Artists Peer Circle with our Executive Director Hoong Yee (read her views on the circle here) and has been a QAF grantee both with her own project, one for J. Expressions - a pop-up bookstore that hosted a series of literary events - as well as a leading member of the Southeast Queens Artists Alliance (SEQAA) for their upcoming (C)Art Festival. But what makes Sherese's point of view especially insightful when it comes to talking about QAF is that she has also served on a grant panel, where she and 6 other members of the Queens arts community reviewed artist applications and recommended them for funding.

We asked Sherese some questions about her experience with the Queens Arts Fund, and some advice she has for potential applicants.


QCA: Tell us about yourself and your practice.

I wear several hats! I am a poet, speculative fiction writer, blogger, workshop facilitator and literary curator. Much of my practice involves unconventional and interdisciplinary approaches to the literary field as well as creating platforms for underrepresented communities. For example, my blog, Futuristically Ancient, is an afrofuturist-inspired site that explores speculative fiction culture and tropes (science fiction, fantasy, mythology, spirituality, etc.) from an African Diasporic lens. My other project is J. Expressions, a mobile library and pop-up bookshop dedicated to promoting the work of authors and writers from Southeast Queens (books, handmade books, zines, broadsides, etc.) and cultivating the literary community in the area.

QCA: What was your QAF project last year? 

My project was J. Expressions' first event series, Reading (W)Riting Remedy, which was a series of events each Thursday night in October 2017. The events were a writing workshop ("Poetic Inventions: Word Empowerment"), a book exhibition for the mobile library, a poetry reading ("Revelations & Restoration"), and a panel discussion ("Eat a Scroll: Art & Health"). All of the events were centered around art, writing and healing. 

QCA: How did the QAF grant help you grow in your practice?

Before I received the grant, I only did a few popups with the mobile library, showcasing the books I had collected. But the grant allowed me to expand the mobile library from not just showcasing the books but into curating programming for it. From doing the events and receiving encouraging feedback from those who attended, I could see a larger scope of possibility for the project. The grant also gave the project more credibility, which I could use to apply for other grants and awards, and in engaging other arts organizations and the arts community. 

QCA: Were you able to take anything away from being a panelist?

Not to take rejections so personally when it comes to grant applications or any kind of submission process. Sometimes it's not a reflection of the value of your work, but a responsoe to how the application was written, such as an issue of clarity in its explanation or budget, or your work not fitting with what the current objectives of an organization is. 

QCA: Do you have any advice for anyone applying for a QAF grant? 

When writing your grant, be as clear and direct as possible. Treat it as if the people who will be reading it are not artists who are in your field and are instead a person who is coming to view your work for the first time. How would you explain your work to them? How is your work relevant to the QAF's mission? Also, be aware of how your project can be interpreted -- how do you fit in the project and what relation do you and your project have to the community and how is the project relevant to the time in which you are doing it? Last, always make sure to follow the rules of the grant. A few people had good ideas but we immediately had to disqualify them because they didn't follow the guidelines. 


Applications for the Queens Arts Fund are now open. To learn more about the grants, visit the site here

Interested in serving on a QAF Panel? Learn more here

Any questions? Contact Dan Bamba, Grants and Residencies Manager at dbamba@queenscouncilarts.org

For more information on SEQAA and their artists, you can check out their website here, instagram: @southeastqueensartists and their facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/SEQAA/

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Boomerang Girls: Peer Circle Power!

  Me, Ebony, Sherese, Ran, Sara and Diki out in front!

Me, Ebony, Sherese, Ran, Sara and Diki out in front!

Is it really a big surprise that people complain about not being heard, or not being understood?

We learn at a very young age how to use our voices to speak, to show and tell - as in telling people about yourself. Fewer people learn how to use their ears to engage.

I couldn’t get this little verbal exchange off my mind. In conversations, I noticed 2 types of responses to my question, “What is the best way to talk to people and really connect?”

One type of person, I call them Couch Coaches, reacts by dismissing the question with the wearied air of someone who has seen it all and say, “It’s all in your body language. Slouch when you speak and boom! - who’s going to listen to you?” and will go on to explain in exhilarated detail that all people are suspicious of anyone with poor posture.

The other type, the Misunderstood and Mortified, often seize this as an opening for airing a long speech about how rude everyone is and launch into a story about a friend who refuses to speak to anyone in his family unless they apologize. “Apologize for what?” I asked. “Oh, he keeps a list for everyone’s convenience. People are busy, you know.”

Give it a shot. Ask the next person you happen to run into, “What is the best way to talk to people and really connect?” and listen to what they tell you.

Try asking yourself and listen to what you tell yourself.

What I told myself was something Agatha Christie said about how to find a murderer:

Conversation reveals all.

It can’t be a coincidence that the best conversations begin with open ears, not open mouths.

Many writing teachers say that to be a better writer, read more books. This is sound advice for people communicating through words on paper. For everyone who wants to become better at speaking, listen more.

And listen better.

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Once a month, I sit with 5 young women who are emerging leaders of color in Queens and we practice listening in a peer circle. And forming better questions that clarify, probe and magically help each of us to snap back to those wonderful Aha! moments. This is a simple and oh so effective way to get people into the practice of listening with power and intent that has forever lowered my tolerance for insufferable conversations.

We listen in focused silence to each other, 20 minutes per person.

When was the last time you held the uninterrupted attention of 5 people listening to your every word?

We speak in reflective questions, never statements.

No one hijacks the conversation saying things like, “Oh, that just happened to me last week, this is what you should do about it…” or “I know exactly what you mean.” What we can ask is, “Can you clarify what you mean when you said…?”

All of our deeper and more probing questions can begin with either What or Where.

This forces you to rethink and reframe what you want to say into a question that makes the person reflect on what they just said. “What would success look like for you?” Simple, but it works.

We are clear about what we need and what we want to share.

Sometimes you need to talk through a knotty problem, sometimes you want guidance, but most of the time you just have to trust that you already know the answers and that the shared focus of your peers will ricochet that back to you.

Sharing. It is such a casually explored word.  

At it’s best, it can change your worldview. At it’s worst, it is no different than knitting an ugly Christmas sweater for someone you love.

You love to knit, you love these wild and woolly colors, you’d love to give this to someone near and dear to you who you didn’t give the chance to tell you what they really want or what would make them happy.

Is this sharing?

No, this is colonizing, an activity measured in skeins.

Sharing without listening is an exercise is self flattery.

Listening, done well, is the beginning of empathy.  It makes for better conversations and knitwear.

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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 is it like to be a cultural gatekeeper?

 David Johnston, Executive Director of Exploring the Metropolis (EtM)

David Johnston, Executive Director of Exploring the Metropolis (EtM)

This month's Artist Commissioning Program podcast asks, "What is it like to be a cultural gatekeeper?", featuring an exclusive interview with David Johnston, Executive Director of Exploring the Metropolis (EtM) and ACP Advisory Council Member

We thought David was the perfect person to talk to because he's been on both sides of the gate: as an arts administrator, facilitating panels for the organization's performing arts programs, as well an artist, applying for opportunities--and yes, even receiving the occasional rejection letter (it happens to all of us)!

David can also speak to all three of ACP's disciplines: EtM's residencies focus on space for choreographers and composers, while his personal practice includes playwrighting. 

The idea that we are going to cultivate and develop and train future art producers and commissioners is kind of fascinating.
— David Johnston, ACP Advisory Council Member

In the latest episode, David and I unpack:

  • How artists are chosen for opportunities 

  • What makes panelists tick (and cringe)

  • What makes a good ACP application 

  • How to democratize the commissioning process

All this is done with the help of real, live excerpts taken from the inaugural ACP panel. You'll hear the art producers, who selected the four winning applications, talk about applications done well, and what didn't work so well.

how are applications evaluated, anyway?

The latest episode walks listeners through three of the ACP evaluation criteria that are pretty universal to all artist opportunities: 

1. Artistic quality of previous work

        What are the merits of the artists' existing body of work? And how do you talk about artistic quality, especially when the nature of            the discipline and/project is very abstract?

2. Quality, clarity, and artistic merit of the proposed project

         When evaluating new work that doesn't exist yet, the merits of the proposed project become an entirely other consideration. Why             does this work need to be created? Is it clear what you're trying to do? 

3. Overall project feasibility 

         Is this thing even possible to do? Maybe it's a great project, but how are you going to get it done? As David and I discuss, half the                 battle is simply showing you're aware of any potential obstacles that may arise.

Want to know more?

Want to know more about how ACP selects its candidates? Download the Artist Scoring Criteria Worksheet for Panelists - otherwise known as handout we give to our art producers to help guide their decision-making process.

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QCA Introduces Their First Public Art Project in Jamaica and Jackson Heights

Public art can take many shapes and forms and can transform a community in different ways: aesthetically, economically, and architecturally. Additionally, it can not only alter how people use a space, but also how they view and perceive the spaces public art is situated in. Public art can be used as a platform to share ideas and stories that reflect the community they are in. These are ideas that Queens Council on the Arts is exploring with their new public art project, ArtSite.

Marissa Lazar, the Public Art Coordinator of ArtSite, sat down with the QCA director, Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer, along with two representatives from ArtSite’s Business Improvement District partners in Jamaica and Jackson Heights: Valerie Stevens, the Director of Business Services at Jamaica Center BID, and Leslie Ramos, Executive Director of 82nd Street Partnership, to discuss the ideas behind the project, the communities surrounding the BIDs, and their goals of the project for both the community at large and local artists.

Interview with Hoong Yee, Director of Queens Council On The Arts:

ML: What inspired you to create ArtSite?

 HYK: Having art on the streets of a community where people are walking, shopping, meeting friends, going to work, is the best way for people to see how artists can transform their lives into a daily creative experience. I wanted everyone who cares about these communities to be able to say things like, "I love living in a place where artists are making cool stuff all the time" or "Look at how artists are making all of these empty store fronts and unexpected places beautiful".

ML: What are some of the challenges and opportunities you see starting this new project?

 Hoong Yee Krakauer

Hoong Yee Krakauer

HYK: Artists can make art out of anything, anywhere. John Lennon is famous for saying, "Give me a tube and I'll make music with it." It takes a partnership of artists and community members to find a way to navigate the waters in getting temporary public art out in the world. I think that being part of a public art process gives everyone a chance to be a curator of democratized commissioned work that will be seen by thousands of people.
 

ML: Why did you choose the Jamaica Center BID and the 82nd Street Partnership?

HYK: These two organizations work with people in dense, integrated, diverse communities with histories, narratives and stories that, through temporary public artwork, can contribute to efforts of these local organizations in nurturing the growth of local civic pride.

ML: What are your overall goals for ArtSite? (For both the community at large and the artists)

HYK: ArtSite will give two Queens communities the chance to experience how art can change their communities on a very local level. I want to see people snapping selfies of themselves and their friends with the artwork, storeowners who get to know the local artists, residents chatting among themselves looking forward to seeing what the next piece is - all hallmarks of a place where art is a valued and vital part. For artists, ArtSite is an opportunity to create work that is valued, deeply relevant, tied to place and for them to build new networks of support among project participants.

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Interviews with QCA’s two partner Business Improvement Districts: Leslie Ramos, 82nd Street Partnership (Jackson Heights) and Valerie Stevens, Jamaica Center BID (Jamaica).

 Leslie Ramos, 82nd Street Partnership

Leslie Ramos, 82nd Street Partnership

ML: Can you tell me a little about the community within and around the 82nd Street Partnership?

Leslie Ramos: This is one of the most diverse communities in New York City. We have people from almost every corner of the world, with a concentration from Latin America, South America and Mexico. We also have a very strong Southeast Asian community in the surrounding area. It is very diverse in terms of economics as well. We have people here that come from both rural and urban centers from their native countries. So that creates a very interesting mix of communities and self-identities.

Valerie Stevens: The community is a thriving community. We are a destination. New development is coming which is providing jobs for people. It’s a great place to shop, work, live, and play. You can come to Jamaica Avenue and just about find any and everything that you need. So the community is really growing and the BID is just happy to be a part of it. We are happy to promote the local businesses, forge relationships with them, and engage with different creative activities that will actually increase the foot traffic and increase awareness of the businesses here in downtown Jamaica. Like public art for example. It changes the economy. It blends in with the community and it draws attention from other artists. So it opens up doors. In downtown Jamaica, we open up doors for entrepreneurs, big businesses and small business.

ML: In your opinion, what is the artist community like? Is it a tight knit artist community? Are there a lot of opportunities in Jamaica/Jackson Heights for artists in the public sphere?

VS: There is something here for artists, and the BID is an influential part of that because we forge relationships or collaborate with organizations like Queens Council On The Arts. So, I would say that the community is always interested in art. For example, at the Queens library they have different creative art activities going on there that are popular with the community. Art is well received in downtown Jamaica, especially because it is home to jazz, iconic jazz, jazz artists, and all type of folk used to live here.

ML: How do you feel the arts have been integrated into your community prior to ArtSite and working with QCA?

LR: There seems to be a high concentration of artists in the area, the community, or people with high appreciation for art. When I came here I met a lot of people who were painters, a lot of people into literature, etc. We actually have two independent bookstores nearby with an emphasis on Spanish literature. That is something I don’t think many communities have. There are a lot of readings and people really trying to use their creative hand and thought to heighten spirits about losing their countries or leaving their native countries and coming here. Many of them sort of have been between their parents’ culture and the culture in front of them. There is a strong arts community here. I think that they are still trying to find themselves within the larger geography of NYC. They want to represent the community but there is not a lot of space for them. Even within our community there is not a lot of space for them to just have a large platform to have their voices heard.

Since we started our work here, I have had artists approach us and ask how they can participate. One of our projects, Viva la Comida, has been popular with local artists, asking to take part. So we started integrating artists more into our event and it has gone really, really well. Because it has also been well received by the community, we have made art a part of Viva La Comida to sort of have that expression of the culture and creativity in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst. We know that artists, especially artists in Queens, and in particular artists who are immigrants of color, are looking for a space to have that bond with other artists that they can link to and also a community they can relate to. Our banners around 82nd Street also focus on local artists as we use our banners as a platform for art because we don’t have that many walls where we can really display are. Instead of using sort of the same plain lines and graphics we decided to make it into a true canvas for artists.

 ML: What do you hope to see through ArtSite? What are your goals? (Both for the community and the artists.)

 Valerie Stevens, Jamaica Center BID

Valerie Stevens, Jamaica Center BID

VS: I would say that the BID’s goal, in reference to the public art project, is to bring more awareness to art and culture in Downtown Jamaica, so that we can partner with, collaborate with, stakeholders and businesses and provide a platform for local artists to showcase their work. I believe that Downtown Jamaica is a thriving destination. It is a very busy hub and the folk out here are interested in artwork, creativity, and they want to be a part of it. And I think that is a good thing. It would further foster the relationships between stakeholders and residents, businesses and shoppers, and tourists that are coming here.

LR: I would put it into categories, one might probably a little bit selfish, because I also appreciate the art and I want people to come here and see, be able to discover who is in the community and the art and the color that brings. So I want to come to that on a regular basis. And the other part is just that you know there are so many changes that are happening in NYC and its part of the history of this city. But I think that through the art, this community can imprint its voice in the long term. I am also hoping that those artists who have so much to say, so much to show, but yet don’t have either the connection, or don’t fit that well with people outside of our community, can have a platform to say we are here, we are part of the community. This is for me a way for the artists to show their love and their connection to the community.

ML: If you wanted a reader to takeaway one key idea about this project, what would it be?

VS: Queens is royalty, Queens is art, Queens is culture. Queens is diversity and different ethnic groups. Relationships are fostered here and are held on to and grow. Public art will create more opportunities for artists here. Working with QCA and other stakeholders will create a social bonding; between stakeholders and communities; people who shop here, who live here, who work here.

Public Art socially connects the community, and is a reflection of who, and what the community stands for. Brining Public Art to Downtown Jamaica, will boost the authentic, vibrant and unique district of Downtown Jamaica.

LR: I think what I want the takeaway for the community to see is that there is a creative muscle to the immigrant experience that doesn’t go away because you came here as a young child or an adult, you still have the space for art and to share that with the community. That people know that artists are here and they are your neighbors.

 

For more information about ArtSite visit: https://www.queenscouncilarts.org/artsite/

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When Artists Unite in a Changing Community….

  Top from left to right: Saliimah Ali, Sherese Francis, Damali Abrams the Glitter Priestess, Natali S. Bravo-Barbee, Shervone Neckles. Bottom from left to right: Lisa Wade, Rejin Leys

Top from left to right: Saliimah Ali, Sherese Francis, Damali Abrams the Glitter Priestess, Natali S. Bravo-Barbee, Shervone Neckles. Bottom from left to right: Lisa Wade, Rejin Leys

QCA’s Community Outreach Coordinator-Samantha Inniss sat down with two members (Rejin Leys and Sherese Francis) of South East Queens Artist Alliance (SEQAA) to talk about how joining together as artists, sharing the same visions, living in the same place, brought them closer to the changes they wish to see in their community.

1) Samantha Inniss: How was SEQAA founded?

Rejin Leys: Four artists and myself had been in a QCA Peer Circle. We got a lot out of the experience, felt very supported professionally and got along well personally. At the end of the year we were not ready to stop meeting, but wanted to extend that support to more artists. That was the seed of the Alliance: we decided to try to develop the kinds of resources we needed that weren’t available for artists locally, while not trying to replicate what an organization can do since we don’t have a budget or a staff. Besides myself, the other co-founders are Margaret Rose Vendryes who is a painter and the Chair of the Art Department of York College; Shervone Neckles is a mixed media artist that works in arts administration at a foundation; Ify Chiejina who is a mixed media artists and art educator; and Elizabeth Velazquez who is sculptor, mixed media artist and also educator.

Sherese Francis: I, then, came along a few months later, after I met Rejin at a meeting about an arts initiative in Jamaica Queens. We felt it was important to think about what the alliance could do for writers as well. The arts initiative was to develop arts and cultures in our community but we felt it wasn’t tailored towards the artists here in SouthEast Queens, so we wanted to do the alliance together to focus more on the specific artists who are working and living here. I joined because, similar to the visual artists, I felt that literary artists here really did not have a platform to voice their needs and wants. The main Southeast Queens’ cultural community is mostly oriented towards performing arts -- dance and music. So I wanted to join other artists in the neighborhood that felt neglected and wanted a bigger platform.

Rejin Leys: And there are a number local initiatives that include arts and culture, but artists are rarely consulted in developing those plans. People who represent organizations were brought to the table, so we thought it was really important to be organized, otherwise our voices would never be heard.

2) Samantha Inniss: What would you say has been the success or challenges of forming an alliance?

Sherese Francis: I feel like people listen to us more now. When we were just individual artists and would present something to cultural organizations in the neighborhood, they would be like “Oh ok…”. They wouldn’t take us seriously because we weren’t “known” to them. So now that we are organized as a group, people are like “Ooh, who is the SouthEast Queens Artists Alliance, ooh what is that?” They want to find out more about us and find out more about what we are doing. They are more willing to hear our proposals that we offer to them because they think of us as organized.

Rejin Leys: When an opportunity comes up, they are more likely to reach out to us. Our biggest success so far was in our first year forming as an Alliance, we were awarded our first grant from QCA for our upcoming festival -(C)Art Festival Pop-Up Art in the Park, which will take place on September 1st at King Manor. That gave us a big boost, and our kickstarter also got fully funded. This all lets us know that people support what we are doing.

Sherese Francis: The other success we had was the Southeast Queens Biennial that was at York College and the Queens Central Library. Most of us had artwork shown in there and as for me I did a reading at the Chapel of the Three Sisters on the York College campus.

Rejin Leys: It was organized by No Longer Empty. A lot of us were included because when the curators asked “Who should we talk to?” we referred them to so many of the great artists we had met through organizing SEQAA. They thought it was amazing how everyone supported each other, helped spread the word, and did the research to find other people. In the past, there had been opportunities that have come up and no one knew who the artists were in the area, or someone knew one person, and there wasn’t a way to identify other people. We really needed this network.

  Standing back from left to right: Wanda Best, Artist, Margaret Rose Vendryes, Artist, Lisa Wade, Sana Musasama, Marvenia Knight, Dominique Sindayiganza, Shenna Vaughn, Chris Smith, Artist, Shervone Neckles. Sitting at table from left to right: Elizabeth Velazquez, Andrea Leslie, Rejin Leys

Standing back from left to right: Wanda Best, Artist, Margaret Rose Vendryes, Artist, Lisa Wade, Sana Musasama, Marvenia Knight, Dominique Sindayiganza, Shenna Vaughn, Chris Smith, Artist, Shervone Neckles. Sitting at table from left to right: Elizabeth Velazquez, Andrea Leslie, Rejin Leys

3) Samantha Inniss: As as an alliance of artists, does that affect your process of working as individual artists when you are working in such a large group? For instance, in your last project was there a certain theme you all were working towards, did that affect individuals as you put together your pieces?

Rejin Leys: We don't currently work as a collective that collaborates on making art. For the Biennial, the curators had a concept and ideas for the show, and they did studio visits and looked at our individual work and selected from that.

Sherese Francis: But it is a chance for all of us to see each other’s work and support each other. Sometimes we get small influences from other artists in the group. For example, when I saw Shervone Neckles’ work, I liked it so much I told her that her art pieces are going to be the cover of my next poetry book. Being a part of SEQAA gives me a chance as a writer to be influenced by visual artists and vice versa.

Rejin Leys: We do have a proposal out for a group residency where we could share a studio and develop some work together. The first space we proposed it to didn't come through, so we are still shopping around for the opportunity to do that.

4) Samantha Inniss: What do you hope to achieve with SEQQA in regards to a community that is going through such major economic changes?  Do you feel that arts and culture in South East Queens will be effected in a good way?

Rejin Leys: Particularly for the initiatives that talk about the need for cultural activities for all the audiences here (local residents as well as commuters and tourists), we feel it’s important to develop funding and other resources for arts and culture, not just pay lip service. We want to be a voice for that and provide an avenue for that to happen, as well as support our community and cultural institutions that are already here. I feel like the Alliance is a voice for how do we not just USE arts and culture but how do we FUND arts and culture for the neighborhood that we want. Also thinking about in a lot of neighborhoods, the arts are used for gentrification purposes. We feel that it’s important for the arts to be funded here because people in the neighborhood need cultural enrichment as well but we feel it’s really important to be thoughtful about how it happens. Just because something may seem good for us as artists we don't want to jump on every initiative that later we may realize is not good for our neighbors, so we feel it has to happen in a thoughtful way.

Sherese Francis: Yeah, our mission is to do more public art programming that is affordable for the neighborhood. So, not just for someone who has the money to access these art programs but everyday people who may not have that money can access art as well. That is part of the reason why we are doing our upcoming festival, because it will be all of our art projects engaging the entire community and it’s free.

5) Samantha Inniss: Based on your experience in SEQAA and with QCA, do you have any advice for other artists outside of your own community that want to engage with the public where they live but struggle in finding ways to do so?

Sherese Francis: I would say get to know your community. For example, I lived in Jamaica, Queens since I was two years old and didn’t know a lot about it. It wasn’t until about a few years ago I started to really explore my neighborhood, explore all of the art organizations and then I realized how much is already here. And that made me want to meet other people, network, find other artists and join together to do more here.

Rejin Leys: I would also say support each other. This is our shared interest…to support each other and to help each other to achieve our professional goals. In making your work and sharing your work, you need to be supported so you can provide what you do for the community. If you’re not supported, then there is nothing you can give for the audience. This is really how we started…by supporting each other. We expanded that to our Facebook group to share opportunities, share advice…if we help people to take their career to the next level then that would bring more attention to where we live and bring more resources. If we are not professionally prepared to go after the opportunities, all the resources will go to other places outside of our community. We need to support each other to get our work done, bring those resources here, as well as share—if your profile goes national, that reflects on the neighborhood too!

For more information on SEQAA and their artists, you can check out their website here, instagram: @southeastqueensartists and their facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/SEQAA/

  From left to right: Elizabeth Velazquez, Rejin Leys, Shervone Neckles

From left to right: Elizabeth Velazquez, Rejin Leys, Shervone Neckles

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THE QUEENS WRITERS LAB COLLECTIVE

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THE QUEENS WRITERS LAB COLLECTIVE

On Friday, May 4, 2018, the Queens Writers Lab graced QCA with a reading of new works at our LAB program. The writers shared riveting fiction, nonfiction, and poetry with a packed house. After the event we sat down with writers Nancy Agabian, Catherine Fletcher, Mary Lannon, Vaughn Watson, Meera Nair, and Jared Harel, to talk about the value of the LAB program and its impact on artists and Queens communities.

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MARY LANNON
I am originally from Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania (the "gateway" to the Poconos).  I've lived in Kew Gardens since 2008. For me, QCA's LAB is important to artist-writers because its an opportunity to share and celebrate my work with my fellow writers and our community.  I am also able to receive responses and feedback to my work that gives me new ways of looking at it, as well as motivation to continue the hard work of writing. I believe the Lab is important to the community because it's an opportunity to come together and hear stories, to hear language put in new ways, and to engage with new ideas.  Sharing in artistic experiences with others can bring us closer to one another and engaged with each other in different registers than in our more mundane interactions. I am currently at work on a satirical dystopian novel (my second novel).


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MEERA NAIR
I have lived in jackson Heights (or Momoland) since 2006. LAB fosters a sense of community and in my case, commitment to the artistic practice. The community gets to experience art and meet working artists. I am currently working on a number of essays and short stories. 


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NANCY AGABIAN
I live in Jackson Heights. LAB gives artists a means to test out new work and to find new audience.  It also allows artists to find resources among each other. I am currently working on a collection of personal essays exploring the liminal spaces of identity.


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VAUGHN WATSON
I'm originally from Corona and am still living there, after a brief stint in China and Japan. The QCA LAB provides a space for artists to engage the community with new work. I'm currently revising my first short story collection, Payaos


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CATHERINE FLETCHER
I'm originally from Virginia and currently split my time between Jackson Heights and Norfolk, Virginia. LAB offers artists that scarce resource in New York City: free space.  For me, LAB offers the opportunity to read works-in-progress in a supportive environment and to get both audience feedback as well as wider exposure for my writing. I'm currently reworking my first manuscript, as well as writing a new series of poems in email format on hacking, espionage, and the cyber bears.


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JARED HAREL
I'm from Long Island, NY and currently live in Rego Park, Queens. QCA's LAB program is an essential component to connecting Queens artists and building a community right here in our borough. Writing (or painting, etc) can be a very solitary endeavor, and so creating a network of artists to support one another, bounce ideas around and share new work is a true gift. My poetry collection 'Go Because I Love You' was published this Spring, and so I'm currently in the process of writing new poems for an eventual next book. Refilling the well, I guess. 

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