Queens Council On The Arts seeks to build community with first-ever public art series

Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech/QNS

The Queens Council On The Arts (QCA) has launched their first public art series, ArtSite, in Jackson Heights and Jamaica.

“I feel that there is already so much culture in this neighborhood,” said Annabelle Popa, one of the artists commissioned for ArtSite. “But these projects can add an extra incentive to bring people to experience what the neighborhood has to offer.”

For ArtSite, the organization commissioned eight local artists to create a series of temporary public arts installation in Jackson Heights and Jamaica. Each of the artists received a stipend of $4,500 and will have their work displayed through the spring of this year.

The pieces include sculptures, murals, performances and video projections that are distributed evenly in both neighborhoods. The artists in Jackson Heights include Yvonne Shortt, Chemin Hsiao, Annabelle Popa and Jimmy Ferguson. Jose Carlos Casado, Keri Edge, Jason Lalor and Margaret Vendreyes each will have pieces in Jamaica.

The four Jackson Heights installations located at Dunningham Triangle, Zaytoun’s Restaurant, Image Heights Pharmacy and Pollos a la Brasa Mario proved their purpose before completion, according to the artists.

A Jackson Heights resident films filmmaker Jimmy Ferguson while on a walking tour of the ArtSite installations in the neighborhood. Ferguson’s piece, “Between Neighbors: Jackson Heights,” is projected over the restaurant Pollos A La Brasa Mario.

During the Sundays that Chemin Hsiao worked on his mural on the metal roll-up door of Zaytoun’s Restaurant, passersby stopped and thanked him for his work.

“We need this,” one woman told Hsiao.

High School students frequently approached him with questions on street art. Others just stopped and stared, their spirits temporarily lifted from the concrete abyss the city becomes in winter.

“When you see beautiful artwork everywhere it really makes you feel inspired and proud about your community,” said Jenis Littles, an Astoria-based artist who took part in a walking tour of ArtSite on Jan. 13. For Littles, pride goes hand-in-hand with care. Public art forces residents to invest in their community emotionally and with the physical labor of upkeep.

Artist Chemin Hsiao explains the inspiration behind his mural, “My Journey to the West III.” Hsaio painted the mural on the metal rolling door of Zaytoun Restaurant on 40-13 82nd St.

QCA’s efforts are helping to improve the day-to-day lives not only of residents, but also of the artists. For many, ArtSite is their first opportunity to publicly display their art and get paid while doing so. The intellectual challenge of working outside and on non-traditional materials such as metal doors and brick walls taught some artists lessons they would not get in a studio.

“For public works like murals you’re in the eye of the people,” said Popa. “So this opportunity helped train me to be approachable, to talk and engage with the public, and to take more responsibility for what I am putting out into the world.”

The four Jackson Heights installations are complete and the first Jamaica installation, a piece by  Vendreyes, will unveiled on Jan. 17 at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center Lawn from 11:30 a.m. to noon. For more information on the artists and their work on display visit www.queenscouncilarts.org/artsite-artists.