Jamaica cultural center diversifies programs

Jamaica Center
THE COURIER/Photo by Asha Mahadevan


The Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning is making a conscious attempt to diversify its programming. During the 2014-15 season, the center will be hosting concerts of Latin music, gospel music and doo-wop, and performances of Brazilian dances, nutcracker ballet and William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Cathy Hung, who joined the center as its executive director in April, said it has always been the aim of the 42-year-old organization to support the community and serve its needs. “Diversity is key,” Hung said. “The society is changing so we have to evolve and support the evolving society. We try to honor the different genres, but they are not planned for specific communities. We don’t want to send anyone out. We want to blend everyone in, support every community.”

There is something for everyone — children, adults, seniors — in the 2014-15 season. Putting the lineup together has been a learning experience for Hung, who worked at the Flushing Town Hall before she joined the center. “I am new to the community and learning about the community organizations,” she said. Her first step is “to inject meaningful content so that the community can talk about the center and the Jamaica Performing Arts Center.”

Hung is working with educational institutions and tying the center’s programming to the school curriculum. The Brazilian dances and the Nutcracker ballet performances are for grades K to 12 while “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is for grades 3 to 12 and a puppet show about Greek mythology is meant for grades 3 to 8. “If teachers want more, we are here to offer it,” she said.

Hung’s aim is to work more closely with other cultural institutions that can make best use of the center’s space. This aim is evident in the exhibition that is ongoing at the center, “Titled Women of the Diaspora,” which portrays art related to women of color. An exhibit within the exhibition is called “We Be Rational” and features fashion illustrations of black women. Stephanie PhaFar Roy, a self-described “artivist” — artist who is an activist — worked almost a year to put together the 60 illustrations to show women of color in a way they are not represented in fashion. The outfits are inspired by street fashion and African garb but they are not traditional African outfits.

“Some of the prints mimic African art,” said Roy, who is of Haitian descent.

Collaborations and co-presentations are the way to “slowly push the organization where it should be,” said Hung. And where is that? “It can be anything,” she said. “It can be the BAM or Lincoln Center of Jamaica. The sky is the limit.”