2012-04-25 / Front Page

Arts, Fundraising In Local Communities Discussed

By Thomas Cogan

A gathering of artists and arts promoters for an “artistic town hall meeting” at the headquarters of the Greater Astoria Historical Society April 16 alerted participants to the goal of defining the function of artists in local communities. The highly spirited attitude generated boded well for sustaining future meeting plans.

Heading the discussion were Queens Council on the Arts Executive Director Hoong Yee Krakauer  and Cultural Strategies Initiative Executive Director Paul Nagle. Nagle has mapped the cultural landscape throughout the city for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation during the past decade, in the process getting millions of dollars distributed for artistic cultural communities, he said.

But, Nagle added, there is still no “narrative” of cultural function, with too few apparent artists being fully recognizable to an interested party such as the Internal Revenue Service, since artists tend to eke out livings in day jobs that would identify them as any sort of tradesperson other than, say, a sculptor or a musician. Trying to connect artists and others requires effort, since these are “people who don’t normally talk to each other”, Nagle said. Krakauer said that synergy often occurs when people talk to each other, but all too often they don’t. Nagle said it’s often a problem of artists talking to artists, describing Brooklyn artists as loyal to their turf but not connected to other parts of the borough. Erica Edwards, radio station WNYC community ambassador, said arts alliance groups can be found. She explained that Google Maps has a “really cool tool” for gathering names of those in the arts, and added that “there’s not an organization I know” that isn’t listed in the arts calendar in the New York Daily News.

Surveys and censuses of artists are necessary. Nagle said the ones with which he’s been involved are conducted by everyone from artists to clergy and politicians and modeled on a similar census conducted in Massachusetts and now in a collection at Harvard. Community Board 1 District Manager Lucille Hartmann said a census of artists in Astoria is currently in progress. Richard Khuzami, a musician and  Board 1 Parks & Recreation/Cultural Affairs Committee chairman, clarified the census as a list of artists, funders and cultural organizers for the Board 1 district that is constantly updated. There are projects to promote, too, Hartmann said, particularly the transformation of the old diving pool in Astoria Park into a performance center. Khuzami observed that with Board 1 being represented in the City Council by both Jimmy Van Bramer and Peter Vallone Jr., the arts are favored; Van Bramer is the chairman of the council Arts Committee and Vallone is a prominent supporter of such artistic ventures as the Astoria Performing Arts Council (APAC).

The situation in the area where the meeting was held looks favorable, so the participants tried to discover the best way to advance the artistic cause. It is essential, Nagle said, to find people driven by a social mission who can raise funds. Those under 40 have abandoned old formats for fundraising (he lamented the decline in effectiveness of 501 [c] 3 tax status) and seek money-raising ways that “straddle commercial and not-for-profit”. There’s a lot of art that’s given away but there must be a way to make at least some amount of money. It’s important to persuade funding sources to accept low-return investments and get them “investing in social good”, he said.

Eileen Diskin, an Astoria resident, suggested that since the Queens Council on the Arts is moving from its headquarters in Woodhaven to offices at 37-11 35th Ave. within a few months, QCA  ought to hold a “huge event to celebrate your new headquarters”. She also said it might have a lecture series on artistic strategies. Krakauer said the new place ought to have a community contact room. At any rate, she wants to reach the community, rather than merely go on wishing to reach it, she said. Of the meeting at hand, she said that it was exciting but must proceed to something more than “just another wonderful conversation and nothing else”. Slightly earlier, she had asked how far will they have come in a year’s time and heard a wry reply that they could call it progress if they could get 120 in a room rather than the night’s attendance of fewer than 20.

But the exchanges and plans for follow-up that went on among the small gathering in the room could indicate the start of something bigger. Nagle looked at the clock in the back of the room and commented that if they could exceed their allotted time for the meeting, as they had done, it was a hopeful sign.

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