By Courtney Dentch
Nearly 500 Queens residents filled the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning Saturday to get a taste of the wealth of programs available.
The center, located at 161-04 Jamaica Ave., opened its doors, not only for an open house, but also for its spring season and to kick off its year long 30th anniversary celebration.
“For 30 years, the center has lifted the spirits and challenged the talents of this dynamic and diverse community,” said Acting Executive Director Anita Segarra. “As JCAL approaches this watershed anniversary, we are proud to step up our leadership role as an arts and culture leader in New York City.”
Sample classes, ranging from Quilting to Afro-Brazilian Dance, Cartooning to Yoga, and Ceramics to Karate, were open to the public, said Marketing Manager Harlan Chaney. The sample classes are offered to give participants a taste before they register for the class, he said.
“People get the opportunity to talk to the instructors and sample the class,” Chaney said. “That’s actually a really big draw [for open house]. People come with their sweats and they’re ready to get involved.”
In addition to the sample classes at open house, JCAL offers classes in computer skills, dance, fitness, music, theater, visual arts, and writing.
The classes run once a week for 14 weeks, Chaney said. Fees for classes range from $85 to $225, and classes for the spring season start March 4.
More than half of the people who attend sample classes at the open house end up registering, Chaney said. The dance classes are the most popular, but most of the workshops are filled by the second week of classes, he said.
Aside from the workshops, JCAL also offers free after-school programs aimed at helping students hone their cognitive, communicative, and artistic skills. The center also offers the College Choice and Early Awareness programs to help students deal with college and career issues.
The College Choice program is geared toward junior and senior high school students, as well as college-bound adults, while the Early Awareness Program helps sixth- through tenth-graders prepare for the academic challenges of high school and college.
JCAL also hosts a number of gallery exhibits and performances, Chaney said. The gallery is now showing “Street Savvy,” a collection of drawings and sculptures by six contemporary “outsider” artists. The next exhibit, “Elder Grace: The Novelty of Aging,” opens March 16 and features the photography of Chester Higgins.
JCAL was founded in 1972 when local artists were looking for a place to practice their skills, Chaney said.
“A number of artists in the area saw a need for something like the center,” he said. “Downtown Jamaica felt the need also.”
Aside from serving as a cultural center, JCAL also helped revitalize the Jamaica business district, Chaney said.
The center expanded to include one of the first Arts-in-Education programs in the country to connect area schools with community-based organizations, as well as art programs.
“I’m sure that few of our founders envisioned the role we would come to play in this city,” Segarra said. “When the center was first established we served as a home for a local artist collective. Today we have a 25-person staff and an operating budget of almost $2 million.”
JCAL is supported by public funds from the city Department of Cultural Affairs, the state Council on the Arts, and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, as well as private funds, Chaney said.
Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.