BY TRONE DOWD
For the second year in a row, Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) is leading an effort to bring together local artists to reflect on relevant social justice issues through the medium of visual arts.
Lancman told the Queens Tribune that he was “very excited” for the upcoming event this Friday at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning. The councilman has long showed an interest in the topic, founding the Courts and Legal Services Committee upon his election to the City Council four years ago, a committee of which he is currently the chairman. He said that the idea for the event came about during a visit to the annual Southern Queens Park Association art gallery event held at Roy Wilkins Park.
“About a year and a half ago, I was drawn to the art that belonged to a woman named Wanda Best,” Lancman said. “Her art was all criminal justice reform-themed. Obviously, this is a big topic for me.”
Best, a 62-year-old Southeast Queens artist, has displayed her work for more than 50 years. She previously taught at the Rochdale Village Community Center and told the Queens Tribune that she has used art as a means of expressing her observations related to social justice issues.
“Visual arts is a non-threatening way to express a concept, an issue, or bring the attention to something that may be overlooked,” she said.
Best’s art deals directly with the injustices in the prison system.
“When you have a visual painting, most of the time people get drawn into it and are able to get the same information that you would get though a conversation,” she said. “Art is a way to communicate, to express and to educate.”
Due to her innate ability to convey this message through her work, Lancman said that he reached out to Best. The common interest turned into a discussion on how to bring Best’s signature themes to a more focused gallery later in the year.
“We thought, ‘How cool would this be to focus on social justice as a whole?’” he said. “We partnered together and held the first one last year at Rufus King Manor. We had a number of artists all expressing some aspect of social justice. People really liked it. It was a great way to have a conversation about these issues without someone getting up and giving a speech to a group of people.”
The event was successful enough for Lancman to team up with Best for a second time for this year. The vision has been expanded as the event will now be hosted at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning. The length of the show has also been extended from one night to two weeks.
“We have about a dozen artists contributing this year,” Lancman said.
The process of finding contributors was a joint effort by Best and elected officials from Southeast Queens. Lancman said that Assembly members Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica) and Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens), Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and U.S. Rep Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica) all recommended artists from their respective districts.
Lancman said that he had a hands-off approach during the organizing phase of the event. He told the Queens Tribune that art was not his “forte.”
“I’m more of the convener of this,” he said. “I’m not an artist. My idea of social justice reform is through the lens of what I do on the council. I’ll put up a bill or hold a hearing, maybe I’ll write up an op-ed and try to influence the public’s dialogue. For this, I wanted the artists to do what they do best. I didn’t want to corrupt the vision of this at all.”
Best said that she reached out to artists she knew who would understand the premise of the exhibit.
“What I was looking for were artists who did social justice art—people who could really bring this national, even global, concern to life,” she said. “My whole objective is to change the perception of how people view some of these issues that impact us all.”
Although it’s only in its second year, Lancman already has plans to expand the event outside of Queens.
“I would like to bring it to City Hall,” he said. “From time to time, there are different exhibits in the hallways and rooms and the art commission hosts stuff there or in the council chamber. I really think it is an important and interesting way to experience issues outside of what we’re used to. This isn’t to replace what we’re doing in Queens, just expanding on it.”
The gallery will open on Friday at 6 p.m. at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, located at 161-04 Jamaica Ave. Food will be provided by Golden Krust. For more information, call Lancman’s office at (718) 217-4969.