BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
Although Queens College has been collecting artwork for its campus museum since 1957, many believe that the CUNY school would not have earned its international recognition for the arts without the leadership of Dr. James Muyskens.
Muyskens, who has served as president since 2002, is credited by the faculty and staff as spearheading the arts program at Queens College, placing a significant importance on the school’s Kupferberg Center – the largest cultural campus in Queens.
The center houses three performance spaces, including the LeFrak Concert Hall, the Colden Auditorium and the Goldstein Theater, in addition to housing the Godwin-Ternbach Museum, which is home to the most comprehensive art collection in the Borough.
The Kupferberg Center provides year-round cultural programming, including music and dance performances, art exhibitions, plays and literary readings for about 20,000 students as well as the Borough’s 2.2 million residents. Each year, more than 350,000 people attend cultural programs at Queens College and increasingly at off-site neighborhood venues.
Under Muyskens’ leadership, the Kupferberg Center has seen millions of dollars in upgrades. Most recently in 2006, Queens College alum Max Kupferberg and his wife, the late Selma Kupferberg, donated $10 million, which went toward extensive renovations that took two years to complete – including designs and enhancements to the interior lobbies and facades, as well as new landscaping, signage and updated technical, HVAC and security systems.
The state-of-the-art center has also been stage to a number of celebrities who have visited the campus to perform. Jerry Seinfeld, a Queens College alum, Cyndi Lauper, Audra McDonald, Christine Andreas and Barbara Cook have all put on a show at one of the Kupferberg Center’s several venues, capturing the attention of national media.
“I said a number of years ago that we have to be the cultural center for the Borough of Queens,” Muyskens told the Queens Tribune. “We have to be a place that virtually any citizen of this Borough would see we’re offering something, whether it’s children’s programs for their kids, ethnic music [or] drama.”
To achieve this goal, Muyskens said he was focused on bringing in a staff of experts who had the skills to develop audiences – both inside and outside of the Queens College campus.
“We don’t want to just ask people to come to Queens. We’re going to go out into the community,” he said. “We now do an immense number of programs out in the community in all sorts of venues. We hope to be the source of a renaissance in the arts in the Borough of Queens. This is where we’ve been very, very aggressive, very ambitious with a lot more to do. It’s really changed. We now bring the top programs here.”
Though modest about his role in enhancing the school’s Kupferberg Center, those who have worked alongside Muyskens to reach the goal credit his tenacity and dedication for the center’s relatively recent success.
“There is not and never will be an institution that brings the arts together under one umbrella like the Kupferberg Center,” Suzanna Simor, former director of the Queens College Art Center, said. “He is the leading person that has helped the center reach this goal. The arts have always existed at the college, but he made it stronger by opening new doors. He made up a lot more visible, especially outside of the college.”
“He has always been very keen on the arts,” she added. “He had the vision and was attuned to its potential. It was part of his idea of moving forward, to provide students and the public with what they need.”
Reach Natalia Kozikowska at (718) 357-7400 Ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org or @nkozikowska.