‘Queens Beats’ helps visitors tap into borough’s diversity

‘Queens Beats’ helps visitors tap into borough’s diversity
By Anna Gustafson

The sights and sounds of Queens, from the Vernon−Jackson subway station to Flushing’s Main Street, can now be seen and heard in one room in the Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst.

With a tap of a finger, individuals can listen to the music of the Romanian community living in Sunnyside or see pictures of Queens from the early 20th century at “Queens Beats,” an exhibit that opened Monday in the mall’s Queens Visitors Center.

“I hope this lets people explore Queens,” said Hector Canonge, the Jackson Heights artist who spent six months creating the piece.

The interactive piece consists of two parts, one a kiosk that portrays an image of the No. 7 subway line. Visitors may select a circle on the map, with each circle representing one of the 18 stops on the line.

After selecting the station, they can then listen to some of the languages spoken by communities in the area, hear music from those populations or listen to interviews with residents in English.

For example, should someone select the Main Street station, they could listen to Flushing residents speak Korean. Should an individual select the Vernon−Jackson station, Italian music will waft through the kiosk’s speakers.

The second part of the piece allows individuals to scan barcodes on a screen, after which they can access old photos of the areas along the 7 line while listening to audio of current languages spoken there.

Canonge’s piece is the first in a series of monthly exhibits by local artists that the Queens Economic Development Corp. will sponsor at the Queens Visitors Center at the mall.

“Galleries can be isolated and not accessible to everyone, so we’re bringing the gallery to the people,” said Michelle Stoddart, director of marketing and tourism for the QEDC.

Canonge recorded all of the music, languages and interviews in the piece, and to do so was not always easy.

“People in the communities could be very hesitant about talking to me, but then eventually, after I hung out for a couple days, they’d open up to me,” said Canonge, who was born in Argentina and grew up mostly in Astoria.

“Even the Spanish community — my community — didn’t want to talk to me,” he said. “I wondered if I was doing something wrong, but I realized it’s the times we’re living in. We’re very scared of so many things. We’re scared of connecting to people, of talking to people. You listen to your iPod on the subway, and you don’t look up.”

Canonge said he hopes this exhibit will inspire people to venture out into Queens, to pay attention to languages on the subway, and to take in the sights of Queens — everything from a Filipino market in Woodside to a Mexican restaurant in Corona.

“Queens Beats” will run until April 30.

For more information, visit www.discoverqueens.info and click on “special events,” or go to www.hectorcanonge.net.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.