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Three Queens arts groups earn NEA program funding

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Three Queens arts groups have been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, including two grants that will help preserve Latino arts and culture in the borough.

The Queens Theater in the Park was awarded $25,000, the Queens Symphony Orchestra recieved $20,000 and the Ollantay Center for the Arts was given $9,000. These were the only three arts groups from Queens out of 200 recipients in New York State and 851 nationwide.

More than $6.3 million was given throughout New York State, out of a total pool of nearly $61 million nationwide. This is the second and final round of arts funding by the beleaguered National Endowment for the Arts this year. Arts organizations across the country applied for the grants, and winners were informed by the NEA last month that they were being considered.

“When you get money from the NEA, it’s for artistic quality,” said Queens Theater in the Park Executive Director Jeffrey Rosenstock. “This is a real stamp of approval for the quality of our programs.”

The money the Flushing-based Queens theater will receive is to help fund its annual Latino Cultural Festival and yearlong Latino Cultural Series.

“Our mission is to have artists on our stage that reflect the diversity of the borough,” Rosenstcok said. “We saw about six years ago that the Latino population in Queens was growing and that the theater as a whole was thriving, but that a large constituency was not coming to our theater.”

The theater created a four-week festival to celebrate the work of Latino artists, and since then the theme has taken off. “Now 40 percent of our staff is bilingual, and we are working in collaboration with other companies throughout Queens to increase our Latino presence,” Rosenstock said. “The concept has been to have a mainstream institution evolve into the new home for Latino art and culture.”

On average, 80 percent of attendees at most Queens Theater in the Park functions come from Queens, 17 percent come from Nassau County and the remaining 3 percent come from elsewhere, Rosenstock said. For Latino events, 65 percent come from Queens and the other 35 percent come from the greater New York community, which Rosenstock said proves the acceptance of a mainstream theater by the Latino culture.

“What we got funding for is cultural heritage and preservation,” Rosenstock said. “It shows a very sincere and real commitment on the part of the theater to be as diversified as our population.”

Cultural heritage and preservation are also the underlying reasons for the Ollantay Theater Magazine being awarded its grant.

Working under the umbrella of the Jackson Heights-based Ollantay Center for the Arts, the biannual magazine is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Latino culture through the investigation and publication of works by Latino artists.

“We are the only Latino theater magazine in the country,” said Director Pedro Monge-Rafula. “We publish two plays in each issue; one in English and one in Spanish.”

The $9,000 the magazine has been awarded is $3,000 short of the amountit had requested, so there will have to be some cutbacks this year in the size and reach of the publication.

“We have put out about 5,000 of each issue,” Monge-Rafula said, “but we will probaly have to cut back to about 4,000. Most likely, an organization that receives our magazine for free will no longer get it.”

The less than hoped for award will have a negative effect on the group’s public presence. “This will reduce our exposure because we won’t have the money,” Monge-Rafula said.

But for the Glendale-based Queens Symphony Orchestra, the money from the National Endowment for the Arts will help support an audience development campaign and increase exposure.

“We are very glad to have been awarded,” said Executive Director Sophia Foglia. “This money will help us develop greater organizational capacity and greater community outreach.”

The Queens Symphony Orchestra has partnered with dozens of arts groups and institutions throughout Queens to bring the symphony to diverse spaces. Partnerships with the Thalia Spanish Theater and Queensborough Community College are just two of their success stories.

The symphony’s Masterworks Series will be hosted throughout its entire season by Queensborough, and the Neighborhood Global Series works to bring small ensembles to schools and libraries for free concerts.

“We have, for almost 50 years, been one of the culturally defining institutions in Queens,” Foglia said. “This funding will give us the opportunity to bring artistic excellence throughout Queens.”

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