Arts and culture celebration ‘Queens Rising’ launches calendar of events for June

Queens based artists and their supporters celebrated the launch of the third annual Queens Rising initiative on May 2 at the Queens Museum.
Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

The arts and culture community came together at Queens Museum in Corona Thursday morning to launch the third annual Queens Rising celebration. 

The month-long celebration of local artists and venues will kick off on June 1 with a packed calendar of events that highlight the diversity of the borough. Last year, Queens Rising partnered with 100 local organizations and promoted over 300 events throughout the month. 

This year’s new initiative is “Queens Scene,” which will bring a series of performances by artists who live and work in Queens to four partner venues: Flushing Town Hall, Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, the Queens Botanical Garden and Terraza 7 in Elmhurst

“It’s not our first time talking about Queens Rising. Maybe two years ago, it was aspirational. Today, it’s real,” said Leonard Jacobs, Executive Director of the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards advocated for continued investment in the arts and culture sector. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

In attendance, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards lauded the initiative, which was contrived during the pandemic to sustain the creative sector during the economic downturn. He specifically hailed the increase in job opportunities and spike in tourism that the arts industry brings in. 

“We’ve come a long way since the pandemic, and now we’re eager to get out here and enjoy a performance, a gallery and much more. But it’s not always easy to find where to go for some culture. It’s so important that we have Queens Rising,” said Richards, noting that he invested $27 million to cultural institutions across the borough since taking office in 2020.

Assemblymember David Weprin, who represents northeastern Queens, also advocated for an investment in the arts by supporting initiatives like Queens Rising. 

“Arts are often the first budget cuts. But that is a real economic mistake, not only a cultural mistake, because the arts bring about tenfold in economic activity to Queens, to the city,” said Weprin. 

Courtney French, Artistic Director of the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, invited the audience to dance on stage in celebration of the launch. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

Several organizations have sponsored Queens Rising with financial support and marketing help. The initiative’s title sponsor is Northwell Health, which is currently expanding into the borough from its Long Island stronghold. 

“To do something like this, and really culminate and bring this culture to a broader audience by celebrating those artists that may have not gotten highlighted… is really powerful,” said Lorraine Chambers Lewis, CEO of LIJ Forest Hills Hospital. 

Other major sponsors include Resorts World NYC, the Howard Gilman Foundation, and the Kupferberg Center for the Arts

“We, too, are an entertainment resource,” pointed out Michelle Stoddard, Vice President of Community Affairs at Resorts World. “It was only natural that we partnered with Queens Rising to be able to explore not only different artists out there, but venues that we can partner with as well to really make a longer lifespan for an artist.” 

Directors at Culture Lab LIC, a non-profit art center with galleries, a performing arts venue and a community center with regular programming, expressed the need to collaborate with organizations like Queens Rising. 

Artistic Director Tess Howsam and Executive Director Edjo Wheeler at Culture Lab LIC attended the launch. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

“We want to represent what’s happening in the arts in western Queens, but we need help and Queens Rising is that kind of organization,” said Executive Director Edjo Wheeler. “We are hoping to create synergy. We’re hoping to create some momentum.”

As part of Queens Rising, Culture Lab is exhibiting “Say it Loud: Unsung Heroes” a show that aims to celebrate the unique LGBTQ voices that have made contributions to their community and society. Currently, they are calling for submissions, but the exhibit’s opening event is scheduled for June 6. 

Attendees of the launch got a taste of what’s to come with a performance from JRose, a spoken word artist born and raised in Queens. She delivered a poem titled Homesick, about her love of the borough, followed by another poem about her connection to her ancestors.

“It’s really important that we continue this initiative to fund art because art literally saves people’s lives,” said JRose, who is also a host and curator. “Being able to not only get paid opportunities, but to also provide paid opportunities for artists is really important. It helps our community.”

On June 19, she will be hosting, and performing with other poets, at the Queens Rising Juneteenth event at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning.

 “We all know that culture is king,”  said Borough President Richards. “June promises to be an exciting month for the world’s borough.”