Forest Hills Festival of the Arts turns 15

By Tammy Scileppi

This year’s 15th annual Forest Hills Festival of Arts included much more than handcrafted items.

Ethnic fare, live music, beer and a smoking garden created by a hookah bar provided the estimated crowd of 50,000 plenty of diversions while they shopped for one-of-a-kind artisanal items, artwork, jewelry, vintage clothing, home décor, and more, offered by more than 200 vendors.

“We’re celebrating our 15th annual Festival of the Arts, which has been a huge success with tens of thousands of people and families coming out and enjoying food and fun, and all of our wonderful Austin Street businesses and local merchants that participated, and our wonderful sponsors,” Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce President Leslie Brown said.

Sponsors included 718 Hookah Lounge, Bareburger and Forest Hills Station House pub, which set up a beer garden, as well.

Sandra Salameh, 23, said she frequents 718 Hookah Lounge on Austin Street “because the hookah is really good.”

The Rego Park resident thought it was a great idea to have a hookah garden at the street fair, and said she and her friends spent the entire day there, enjoying it.

Lounge owner Ali Mohammed grew up in Forest Hills.

“We are very honored to be part of this community and provide our Middle Eastern food, such as shish kebab, falafel and Shawarma, as well as hookah,” he said. “Everything is served outside today for this amazing event. The community meant so much to me as a child growing up here and now as a business owner, and to be able to share our culture with the community is a wonderful thing.”

Offering ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop, and combo dance classes since 2008, All Star Studios returned to this year’s festival and showcased a bevy of talented young dancers. The girls were setting their sights on a special opportunity the studio is offering this summer.

“We’re very excited about our upcoming Madison Square Garden Half-Time Performance Clinics, where the kids will be doing a jazz dance on stage there,” owner Rysa Childress said.

Childress said her studio has grown significantly since opening in 2008 at 108-21 72nd Ave., but they’re still one big family.

“We’re very firm on strength and nutrition, respecting each other, respecting our bodies, our community,” she said. “We do a lot of community-based performances, like the street fair each year, and at nursing homes.”

They also raise money for Autism Speaks and are part of the Autism Walk each April.

“For us, it’s very important for the kids to get a good experience giving back to the community,” she said.

Parents gathered at the Mathnasium Learning Center booth to get program information, while raffles and prizes were given away to get kids engaged in math.

“Summer is a great time to get caught up with math skills and a good time to get a head start on the next school year,” owner and center Director Kaitlin O’Neill said. “We access the child to see their math skills and build up their skills from that point. We find where their comfort level is with math – below, at or above their grade level – and take it from there. Then we create a learning plan from the results of the assessment that students can work with, and show them new and different techniques to learn and understand math.”

Brooklyn-based artist Yoni (Slapz Photography) was one of several local artists whose displayed works were for sale at the arts fest. He explained that his New York City-inspired images were created using a technique called high dynamic-range and said he shoots the picture multiple times.

“Each time, I change the exposure on my camera and blend them together,” he said.

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