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Rockaway Artists Alliance hopes new arts center will help community

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The Rockaway Artists Alliance, a non-for-profit organization headquartered on Beach 116th Street, brings together artists of various disciplines who, as stated in the organization's literature, "reflect the cultural diversity of Queens."

In partnership with the federal Gateway National Recreation Area and with the Rockaway Theatre Company, the RAA is now setting up an arts center at Fort Tilden.

"We're filling a need," said Susan Hartenstein, a member of the RAA board of directors who grew up in the Rockaways and still lives on the peninsula. "We're a very underserved part of Queens in everything. Did you know that the entire peninsula does not have a single movie theater?"

That may explain why, when the RAA showed the classic Groucho Marx movie "Horsefeathers" and the musical "West Side Story" in an outdoor film festival last June, "people from all over the peninsula came out, and were singing along and clapping," she said. "We need more of this."

With funding from the federal government and donations, the RAA is renovating two buildings at Fort Tilden to offer permanent space for exhibits and other cultural activities. The community theater group plans to put on musicals and other plays at the Post Theater at the fort.

The Alliance also plans to expand its program of sending artists into the public schools to show teachers the best ways to teach art to kids.

As the arts center is being put together, the Alliance has scheduled an exhibit, "Interior-Exterior," from Jan. 20 through March 11 in Studio 6 in Fort Tilden, with a 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, opening reception.

Many of the works were created in and around the seaside national urban park on the beaches between the Atlantic Ocean and Jamaica Bay.

Exhibiting RAA members include Christian Le Gars, Patrick Antonelle, and other well-known national and international artists. The work includes oils, watercolors, pastels, photographs, prints, wood sculpture, and more.

All exhibits and shows will be free to the public.

Hartenstein believes that having an arts center is an important step in vitalizing the Rockaways, which is burdened with an image of being a high-crime, not very desirable place to live. "We're trying to change both the image and the fact" of the area, Hartenstein said, and offering an arts center is an important way to do that. It would not only attract people from around Queens and the rest of the city, but also "give kids something to do, a way to use their energies," she said. What crime there is in the Rockaways is mostly from "basically good kids getting into trouble," she said.

For more information about offerings of the Rockaway Artists Alliance, call 718-474-0861.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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