Artists Take Over Long Island City

BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Staff Writer

Queens’ largest arts festival will kick off next Wednesday, bringing more than 250 artists into 54 venues across Long Island City.

The Long Island City Arts Open, now entering its fourth year, will transform the neighborhood into a grab-bag of exhibitions, performances, pop-up galleries and cultural activities for five days.

Richard Mazda, Artistic Director at the Secret Theater in Long Island City, founded the Arts Open in 2011 with artist Karen Dimit. Mazda said that they conceived the idea for “a multidisciplinary festival that covers not only painters, but [also] sculptors, videographers, the whole of the arts.”

Art will be stretched across indoor and outdoor venues in Long Island City during the LIC Arts Open. Photo by Junenoire Mitchell, 2013.

Art will be stretched across indoor and outdoor venues in Long Island City during the LIC Arts Open. Photo by Junenoire Mitchell, 2013.

It grew rapidly from there.

“One month later, we managed to raise about $30,000 from local businesses,” Mazda said.

For Mazda, the Long Island City Arts Open has a multitude of functions. Primarily, he said, it aims to both celebrate and raise the profile of the diverse cluster of artists working in Western Queens.

Another purpose of the Arts Open, Mazda said, is to connect that community of artists to one another.

“Many artists are in their studios – they don’t necessarily need the rest of the community. So the festival has many events where artists can actually meet one another, and feel part of a real, genuine community,” Mazda said.

The events are roughly organized by district, with Vernon Boulevard featured on Wednesday, Court Square on Thursday and Queens Plaza on Friday. Some events that the Arts Open highlighted in a statement released last month include an exhibition by Luba Lukova, a Bulgarian image-maker whose work is currently on view at MoMA, and BATSU!, a live Japanese game show performance.

Over the weekend, the Arts Open will hold Open Studios, during which more than 160 Long Island City artists will open up their workspaces to the public.

Sharon Florin, who will be exhibiting at the Arts Open, has had a studio in Long Island City for more than 30 years.

“I have been painting the neighborhood since I’ve been here, and I try to capture what is here today that might be gone tomorrow,” she said.

“The transformations, especially in the last 12 years or so, have been dramatic since the zoning was changed,” Florin added. “The buildings, once primarily brick, are often being replaced by big glassy boxes. It has become increasingly unaffordable for many artists.”

The approximately 30-block Court Square area of Long Island City was rezoned in 2001 to encourage office, retail and residential development.

Mazda hopes the Arts Open will address these local concerns.

“It’s one of the reasons I wanted to focus on the area,” he said. “The artists have created a movement, an ambience that you associate with this neighborhood. The possibility of the real estate boom is some of those artists might be moved out from higher rent.”

“We need to communicate their worth to the landlords, the residents, the rest of New York,” he said.

The Arts Open already represents grassroots initiative and local commitment to the arts.

“I rely on amazing support from local businesses,” Mazda explained. “If I didn’t have their support, it would be difficult to mount as big a festival as we do. We put on an incredibly professional festival with very little money.”

However, Mazda sees this model as temporary. “I believe that will change, and those [large governmental arts] institutions will eventually be supporting us,” he said.

He hopes that ultimately, the reach of the festival will be international, and with it, an image of a vibrant, expressive Western Queens.

The Long Island City Arts Open will run through Sunday. For a full list of festival events, visit www.licartsopen.org.

Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, jstrawbridge@queenstribune.com or @JNStrawbridge.