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