LIC Arts Open offers creativity up close and personal

Photo by Ken Maldonado
By Kevin Zimmerman

For five days next week the center of New York’s art world won’t be found in Chelsea or SoHo or Tribeca. Instead it will be right here in Queens.

The third annual Long Island City Arts Open kicks off Wednesday, May 15, and offers dozens of events during the celebration of everything artistic in the borough.

“It deepens the community’s involvement in all of the arts,” LIC Arts Open Executive Director Richard Mazda said. “People can experience everything from film to performance art to fine art and beyond.”

Attendees can pop into a special screening from the Queens World Film Festival or listen to an avant-garde musical composition at the Queens New Music Festival, which are both incorporated into the festival.

The centerpiece of the festival remains the artists’ open studios, where a couple of hundred Queens-based artists spend a few hours creating pieces as visitors drop in to their work spaces throughout the day. The original event focused only on this aspect, and although Mazda believed at the time the open studios brought a personal touch to the event, he did not think the festival should end there.

He and co-founder Karen Dimit talked about taking the program to the next logical step, Mazda said.

“We had a conversation and it was like, ‘why isn’t this a multidisciplinary event?” Mazda said. “It should include sculptures, video, film and writers — anything that is considered fine arts and performance.”

Mazda, who runs the Secret Theatre complex near Court Square, brought plenty of experience to the newly formed festival in 2011. More than 15 years ago, he started the Camberwell Arts Week in South London, which also began life as an open studio event and morphed into a more encompassing artistic festival that is still going strong, Mazda said.

So Mazda and Dimit teamed up with gallery owner Jeffrey Leder and Juvenal Reis, who owns a huge artist studio facility in LIC, to jump-start fund-raising for the initial event. In about six weeks, the four raised $30,000 and got things rolling.

“The first year was a massive success,” Mazda said. “Karen had said let’s keep it small, but we had let the genie out of the lamp and it took off like a hit record.”

Although organizers scaled back this year’s festival from nine to “a more manageable” five days, they have expanded locations beyond LIC into Astoria and continue to add new venues, like first-time participant Materials for the Arts.

But no matter how large the festival grows, Mazda believes the focus will remain on opening up the studios to the general public.

“The average person may have more of an interest in art when they see how it is made,” Mazda said. “It’s not the same as going to MoMA or the Queens Museum. This allows people to experience art on a real human level. And it may turn people into art lovers.”

If you go

LIC Arts Open

Wednesday, May 15, to Sunday, May 19

Various locations around Long Island City

For a complete listing of events go to LICArtsOpen.org

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