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Photos courtesy of the Queens Council on the Arts
Clockwise, from top: Michelle Palmieri, Matthew Schickele, Jaime Sunwoo, and Marcus Yi

Four Queens artists are the latest recipients of $10,000 commissions that they will use to tell the untold stories of Flushing, Maspeth and Ridgewood.

A 13-member panel of community members known as art commissioners selected the individuals to win the Queens Council on the Arts (QCA) Artist Commissioning Program Award. The commissioners, who hail from these neighborhoods, chose composers Michelle Palmieri and Matthew Schickele to represent Maspeth/Ridgewood and playwrights Jaime Sunwood and Marcus Yi as the Flushing artists.

Ridgewood resident Michelle Palmieri plans to compose a Spanish and English song cycle for children called “CANCIONES FOR A NEW WORLD.” According to the Guatemalan-born composer, she aims to tell the stories of Latin female and LGBTQ characters for young immigrants growing up in the United States.

“I want to tell the stories of Latin female and LGBTQ characters who have an essential role in our society, but are currently underrepresented in the mainstream Latin music scene,” wrote Palmieri. “The work aims to provide these youth role models to identify with and aspire to.”

Fellow composer and Ridgewood resident Matthew Schickele is currently working on his newest composition titled “The Oldest Take-Out in Queens: a Singer and a Menu of Languages.” The piece focuses on the history of immigration to Ridgewood through the eyes of a restaurateur. A fictional restaurant opens in 1910 and fields takeout orders from 100 years worth of immigrants to the neighborhood.

“The modern history of Ridgewood, Queens, began around 1910 when homes were built for German immigrants,” Schickele said. “In the following hundred years, they were joined by immigrants speaking Italian, Irish, Romanian, Polish, Spanish and more. This project is a celebration of this diversity — still thriving in today’s Ridgewood.”

Flushing playwright Jaime Sunwoo’s work “Specially Processed American Me” uses SPAM, the ubiquitous canned meat, as the center of her surreal autobiographical performance. Through her work, the audience will get a glimpse at her Asian American upbringing and her family’s experiences during the Korean War.

“I grew up enjoying SPAM with my Korean American family, unaware that many white Americans rejected it as a ‘mystery meat’ and ‘poor people food,’” said Sunwood. “In contrast, the people of Korea, Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam and Okinawa reclaimed this ‘all-American’ product to create new culinary and cultural hybrids during continuous U.S. military occupation.”

“Lucky 88 the Food Court Musical” by Marcus Yi is inspired by the array of Flushing food courts and uses the food court environment to explore the multi-faceted lives of people that the average American might not be privy to. The musical introduces viewers to three main characters at three food stalls: 60-year-old Shen Zha Wang at the noodle stall, 50-year-old widow Mei Ling Fu at the dumpling stall and 20-year-old Fan Fan Xiu at the boba tea stall.

“Asian immigrants have contributed to the history of the United States since the beginning and yet have not received widespread attention when it comes to telling their stories,” said Yi. “‘Lucky 88 the Food Court Musical’ seeks to remedy that by becoming the first musical set in a Flushing food court.”

In November 2019, the QCA chose their two groups of artist commissioners who were tasked with choosing the winners of the ACP award. Throughout the year, artists and commissioners will participate in a series of salons throughout the Queens neighborhoods.

“As a Ridgewood resident and avid arts consumer, I was immediately intrigued by the prospect of local artists being funded to tell untold stories from our Queens community, as well as the notion of democratizing art commissioning by deploying interested community members as commissioners,” said Art Commissioner Laurie Bennett. “Now, as a Maspeth/Ridgewood commissioner, not only did I get to be part of the actual grants selection process choosing from a host of locally based artistic talents — imaginative and diverse, innovative and quirky — but I also get to follow Matthew’s and Michelle’s projects as they unfold in real time and to help out where I can be of use!”

The artists will have four World Premieres to debut their work in fall 2020. For more information about the ACP and selected artists, visit www.queenscouncilarts.org/art-commissioning/.

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