LIC Arts Open! Plus, What Makes LIC A Unique Arts Haven?
From May 12-20, the second annual LIC Arts Open (LICAO) will turn Western Queens into a culture lover’s dream, featuring open studios, sculptures, performances and even a day-long block party. Richard Mazda, LICAO Director, is confident that the neighborhood has the elements and momentum to become “internationally famous as a destination for an arts festival.” The growing regard for LIC as a respected arts community inspires questions, though: How did the neighborhood get where it is today? How is it unique compared to other art centers? And finally, where is LIC headed?
A BIT OF HISTORY
Mazda cites sculptors Mark di Suvero, who created Socrates Sculpture Park on an abandoned landfill in the 1980’s, and Joel Shapiro, recipient of the inaugural LICAO Lifetime Achievement Award, as two of LIC’s artistic pioneers. Their work in the area ran concurrent with the founding of establishments such as PS1 (now MoMA PS1) in the early 70’s and 5Pointz (originally the Phun Phactory) in the 90’s. Both are now acclaimed NYC arts destinations.
Carol Crawford, president of the nonprofit group LIC Artists (LICA), was making art in Jamaica, Queens, when artists first began using the warehouses and industrial spaces that had fallen into disuse in LIC. She found the area “very lonely because of all the day buildings; artists were scattered and kept to themselves.” They were nonetheless drawn to the area, she says, because of the “residential neighborhoods tucked against industrial buildings. The odd-angled streets made pockets for people to live and work.”
As Mazda explains, “The derelict buildings were an attractive proposition. Artists are always the first to colonize desolation. They see perfection in rubble, dirt and bleakness. LIC had a lot of that to offer.”
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In 2001, Brazilian artist Juvenal Reis moved from Dallas to New York, ending up in LIC. “I didn’t know anything about [the neighborhood],” he admits, “but the location was wonderful. It was wide open and quiet.”
He soon grew tired of his small studio and rented a larger space in an old manufacturing building to subdivide among high-quality artists. What began as 3,500 square feet in April 2002 is now the 70,000 square foot Reis Studios, a workspace featuring a gallery, communal space, and over 180 private studios. Situated nearby is the LIC Art Center, a five-story building with galleries, dance classes and Mazda’s own Secret Theatre.
LICA, on the other hand, has no permanent home. The organization, which operates on small annual membership fees, seeks to cultivate community through events and ongoing dialogue with artists. As Crawford says, “when artists come together, they are grateful for real communication.”
In that spirit, LICA puts on Show & Tell events at galleries on the first Monday of every month. These shows allow artists to share work and collaborate on projects. Crawford’s biggest wish is to create ways for “local artists to have shows together more regularly, to have artist-run spaces that aren’t controlled by people just looking to make money.”
THE ROLE OF THE FESTIVAL
Reis and Jeffrey Leder, who runs a two-year-old gallery in a historic LIC brownstone, are Co-Directors of Development for the LICAO. Leder says the festival has already helped “foster the spirit of camaraderie in the LIC art world.”
Mazda sees the festival as a prime opportunity to showcase a “full spectrum of multidisciplinary art” that isn’t found in art neighborhoods with narrower demographics. “Artists here range from fresh out of high school to their 80’s,” he says.
Leder also cites the unique balance between art and business in LIC as a fundamental component of the festival’s success. “There is a strong mutual respect between the two entities here,” he says, and that allows for expansion. This year’s festival will include large exhibitions throughout Queens Plaza, which had no presence in 2011.
“This festival is going to surprise you,” says Mazda. “There’s a feeling that the [LICAO] can hit a record.”
While there is a great deal of excitement about the state of the arts in LIC, Crawford has some cautionary points as well.
“Current development is insensitive to the needs of the artistic community,” she says, alluding to the imminent destruction of 5Pointz to build high-rise condos, as well as the paradoxical trend of neighborhoods pricing out the artists that made them attractive to begin with. “It’s important to preserve the mixed community. The LICA has the power to be the core of artists banding together.”
Leder’s perception of the business community’s goodwill toward artists was reinforced in this year’s LICAO fundraising, however. The festival’s largest sponsor was Court Square Diner, a 21-year area mainstay. According to Mazda, Court Square Diner owner Steven Kanellos appreciated that artists had helped “transform the area from a desolate place full of crime and prostitutes.”
Kanellos, perhaps, recognized early on an undeniably powerful element of our neighborhood: what Crawford describes as the “generosity and humanity of most artists.”
LIC Arts Open
43-01 22nd St, LIC
Jeffrey Leder Gallery
21-37 45th Rd, LIC