Astoria Cultural Campus to be designated as Kaufman Arts District

By Bill Parry

The neighborhood surrounding the Kaufman Astoria Studios has been known as the Cultural Campus, home to seven institutions like The Museum of the Moving Image, The Queens Council on the Arts and the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts. On Friday, the 24-block area will be officially designated as the Kaufman Arts District, the first of its kind in Queens.

The area was neglected and rundown until George Kaufman took over the abandoned property, at 34-12 36th St., in 1980. When the studio opened the city’s first open-air soundstage in December, Kaufman said, “I knew that we had the potential to turn this neighborhood into a thriving production, arts and cultural district for the city.”

The institution leaders approached Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) with the idea and as chairman of the City Council Cultural Affairs Committee he was able to make it happen. He will sign the proclamation Friday at the Kaufman Astoria Studio making the neighborhood between Steinway and 31st Streets and 34th and 37th Avenues an Arts District similar to the Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District, the area that surrounds the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

“This announcement helps solidify western Queens’ role as a major player in the development of arts and culture here in New York City,” Van Bramer said. ““I believe this new district will further our efforts to continue nurturing local emerging artists, draw world-class talent to the neighborhood and produce quality art that is seen by millions throughout the world. I am proud to have played a major role in helping make this day possible and I look forward to increasing the positive impact that arts and culture are having in the same neighborhood where I grew up.”

Van Bramer grew up on 44th Street and used to ride past the area on his bicycle.

“This place was a dormant ghost-town, No people and no business and now the neighborhood is thriving,” he said.

Van Bramer went on to be a president of the Queens Council on the Arts and as chairman of the City Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee since 2010, he was able to channel millions in capital funding to the seven institutions, including $4 million for the Museum of the Moving Image alone.

Carl Goodman, the museum’s executive director said, “He’s been leading the charge from the city-end of things, but it’s not just about the money, it’s his visionary thinking not just for the museum and the studio. He’s helping to maximize the potential of the whole area.”

Pete Romano, the vice president of operations at Kaufman Astoria Studios, grew up a block away and marvels at the changes to the neighborhood. “My folks wouldn’t let me cross 35th Avenue. It was devastation, nothing but abandoned buildings. Now look at it,” he said.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) was born and raised in the neighborhood, too.

“It’s been exciting to watch the neighborhood change over the years and now the designation will help the city know about it as well,” he said.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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