Partnership Brings Art to Jackson Heights

By Austin Havens-Bowen

If you look around Jackson Heights, you will see more art than ever before.

The 82nd Street Partnership has partnered with Queens Council on The Arts for their first public art program, ArtSite. The program connects local artists with local businesses and organizations to develop culturally significant art installations.

“ArtSite has brought together talented artists and local business owners to gift the community with visual expressions of their multicultural journeys,” said Leslie Ramos, executive director of the 82nd Street Partnership.
A total of eight artists have been commissioned for various art installations in both Jackson Heights and Jamaica. Four of the artists, Yvonne Shortt, Chemin Hsiao, Jimmy Ferguson and Annabelle Popa have installations in Jackson Heights.

The winners were chosen out of 91 artists that applied by a panel of local art administrators and professionals that have a connection to the borough.
Considering Jackson Heights is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the nation, ArtSite wanted to ensure that all of the installations reflected the diverse cultural stories specific to the neighborhood.

By partnering the artists with local businesses, both sides of the spectrum were able to collaborate in order to retell the external perceptions of the communities thriving in Jackson Heights.

“As a small kid walking around Jackson Heights, my brother and I would go play and pretend to see different creatures as we explored the many gardens around the neighborhood,” said Annabelle Popa, who was raised in Jackson Heights. “I wanted to take my fantastical view of the neighborhood and make something fun.”

Popa decided to paint a mural incorporating the different creatures that she imagined as a child, but with a significant twist.

“I incorporated creatures from the folklore of different cultures,” she said, while also considered the architecture of the surrounding buildings.

The finished piece is a 10-by-40-foot mural on the side of Image Heights Pharmacy on 37th Avenue titled “Guardians of Jackson Heights.” Popa’s mural will be on display until the end of May, unless the landlord decides to keep it up longer.

A short walk down to Roosevelt Avenue, and a different work explores what connects all New Yorkers most: the daily train commute.

Filmmaker Jimmy Ferguson shot endless hours of commuters on the 7, E, M, F and R trains that stop at the Jackson Heights subway station, resulting in his short-film “Between Neighbors.”

“This could be a way to get people to consider our interactions,” explained Ferguson, who was raised between Belgium and Connecticut but has lived in Jackson Heights for two years. “A lot of my shots are of people back-to-back on the train, with their heads barely apart, but they are looking in completely different directions.

“Most often it’s people who are completely different, but are trying to respect each other’s space,” he added.

The short-film is projected above the 7 train platform on top Pollos a la Brasa Mario at 81-01 Roosevelt Ave. Ferguson partnered with Rooftop Films to construct the box-installation that is climate-controlled and set to timers that play the 65 minute film on a loop daily from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. through the end of January.

Ferguson stood in the middle of crowded trains, at times forcing people to walk around him, during rush hour and pointed the camera directly at commuters.

“I think art shapes the mentality of the people, and it is a really important element in society as a whole,” he said. “It’s not about a museum, it’s about the public and putting it out so it starts to shift the mentality of the whole neighborhood.”

On the other side of Jackson Heights, you can find Yvonne Shortt’s ongoing installation “What We Carry” in Dunningham Triangle. A multi-colored sculpture made from wood, aluminum and steel depicts a woman holding a bowl, but the closer you look, the more you will discover.

“It is to celebrate the many different ways people come to New York, specifically Queens, whether it’s by plane, water or land,” said Shortt, who was born in Jamaica and resides in Forest Hills. “No matter where we come from, people connect us.”

An ongoing element of Shortt’s installation is the flowers hung on the fence around Dunningham Circle. The artist collaborates with locals that she meets in the park by taking their drawings of flowers back to her studio and turning them into steel cut-outs.

She encourages anyone interested to reach out to collaborate on a flower. The sculpture will be on display through the end of June.

A quick walk down the street from Dunningham Circle, Chemin Hsiao’s mural “My Journey to the West III: Playground” can be seen at Zaytoun’s Restaurant at 40-13 82nd Street.

The artist painted a detailed mural of various animals, from a sloth to dancing pigs and turtles, captivating the diversity of the neighborhood through something everyone can relate to despite their culture: animals.
Hsiao used his own journey from his native Taiwan to Queens as his inspiration for the mural. The mural is the third of a series of large works that the artist completes every couple of years incorporating the changes in his life.

“When I think of Jackson Heights, I think of the diversity of the people who live here,” said Hsiao. “All of these different animals whether you’re a sea creature or a land animal, just like whether you’re a child or teenager, all play around here.

“There’s kind of an unspoken rule that we can all live here peacefully,” he added.

Hsiao’s mural will be on display through the end of May, although like Popa’s work the landlord could choose to keep it up longer.

Although this is the first year for the ArtSite project, all of the participating artists are hopeful that it will become an annual tradition to bring more art to the borough they call home.

“I am thrilled to begin seeing the work of these talented artists emerge throughout the neighborhood,” said Hoong Yee Krakauer, executive director of Queens Council on the Arts. “We are proud to be working with our local partners in bringing more public art to the people of Jackson Heights.”

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