LIC Arts Open secures first-ever government grant

By Bill Parry

The fifth annual LIC Arts Open, scheduled for May 13-17, promises to be the biggest one yet thanks to a grant provided by the Queens Council on the Arts.

The festival drew nearly 10,000 visitors last spring, making it the largest event of its kind in western Queens. But with the $4,400 in new funding, organizers can afford professional publicists to help further promote the five-day fair.

“We’ve done alright publicizing the event during the first four years,” LIC Arts Open Founder Richard Mazda said. “Now we can afford to go out and hire a PR agency and expand our publicity beyond social media and word of mouth. Every year we see more and more people coming from the other boroughs.

Mazda said the group will be able to reach a much wider audience.

“Now we can try to draw people from other states, maybe even that family in Maspeth who never thought of visiting an arts festival. You spend years trying to get the message out and you still hear, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you existed’ and this might help by getting attention from the wider arts community as well.”

Last year’s LIC Arts Open featured the works of nearly 300 Long Island City artists, who opened up more than 160 of their studios to the public. Also involved were 54 different venues, including the Falchi Building, MoMA PS1, the Z Hotel and the Museum of Moving Images.

Also included were galleries and restaurants like Ten10 Studios and the Jeffrey Leder Gallery, Alobar, Coffeed, Manducatis Rustica and The Local, a hostel that opened that spring. The festival strives to promote as many businesses as possible but mainly the artists of Long Island City.

“It’s one of the city’s largest art communities,” Mazda said. “There’s more art made here in one square mile than anywhere else. The artists started arriving here 30 years ago when there was nothing but wise guys and ladies of the evening. The artists began moving here because they didn’t see the desolation, they saw the promise and it didn’t hurt that the rents were cheap.”

The Department of City Planning studied the gritty industrial neighborhood in 2001 and declared it “a growth area with significant potential for office, retail, and residential. Rezoning followed and 14 years later the neighborhood looks entirely different with luxury high-rises springing up along the waterfront, with many more on the way.

“I remain highly concerned about the current trends where communities can change very quickly,” Mazda said. “To quote Joni Mitchell, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,’ one day it’s an artist’s colony and the next it’s a slew of block-long office buildings.”

Mazda hopes a bigger profile as an artist community might slow the steady march of the developers. Up until now the LIC Arts Open has depended on the generosity of local businesses.

The grant from the Queens Center for the Arts is a real game changer, according to Mazda.

“It’s the first time that we’ve gotten some government money,” he said. “This will be the first time where we start out with a little money in the bank.”

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

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