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Queens College to get $1M from Gates sales

But few know that proceeds from the T-shirts, hats, maps, posters, key chains and magnets sold in Central Park did turn a profit for the artists, who in turn allowed Queens College to use that money for its new environmental institute.Nurture New York's Nature, a non-profit founded by New York's famous labor mediator Theodore Kheel, was given the sole license to sell Gates memorabilia in the park as long as the proceeds went to promote environmental and artistic awareness citywide.The foundation for the relationship between the institute and the artists began 25 years ago when Christo and Jeanne-Claude needed an attorney to represent them when they first proposed The Gates project to the city under then-Mayor Edward Koch's administration.So they turned to the mediator known for having brokered deals in some of the most famous transit, longshoreman and newspaper labor disputes of the 1960s and 1970s: Thedore Kheel."They came to him in 1979 and they asked him to represent them in getting permission for The Gates project in Central Park. There were a number of hearings and it was turned down in 1980," said Jake Kheel, the attorney's great nephew, who is a project director for Nurture New York's Nature. "It took 25 years, but eventually they found a mayor who was favorable to the project in Bloomberg. He has represented them as their lawyer in New York City for that whole time."Theodore Kheel, now pushing 90, founded the non-profit Nurture New York's Nature last year in order to accept a license from Christo and Jeanne-Claude that would give the organization the right to collect proceeds from The Gates memorabilia sales. That money would be chanelled through the non-profit into The Institute to Nurture New York's Nature at Queens College.The Gates, a 16-day public art project which came down Sunday, brought 7,500 16-feet-high saffron-colored curtains to 23 miles of pathways in Central Park. The artists are known for using fabric to wrap and surround public buildings, bridges and parks in countries including Japan, France, Germany and the U.S. for environmental art installations. The artists fund their projects entirely through the sale of Christo's preparatory sketches.Because they do not promote their work through T-shirt, hat and poster sales as other artists do, they decided to allow Theodore Kheel to oversee the licensing of product sales in order to fund Nurture New York's Nature. "They stipulated in the license that we had to spend everything we raised on projects that benefitted the arts and environment in New York City," Jake Kheel said.First the Kheels commissioned an author to write a book about the habitat of New York City. From there, a City University of New York course about New York's environment was created, which made way for the eventual creation of the Institute to Nurture New York's Nature. In November, CUNY announced the formation of the institute, which will be housed in its school at Queens College. Theodore Kheel made a $1 million contribution to the institute at that time, some of which came from the Christo foundation. A spokeswoman for Queens College, Maria Matteo, said a director for the institute will be in place and the first installment of money will be allocated by the end of the semester. "When they gave us the license, it wasn't to go and have a good time," said Jake Kheel. "Well, we're having a good time too, but ... they insisted that we promote the arts and its relation to the environment as well." Kheel said the non-profit issued licenses to the Central Park Conservancy to sell memorabilia, Herms to create a Gates-ins-pired scarf and The Metropolitan Museum of Art to make handbags and a poster. The proceeds will be split between the vendors and Nurture New York's Nature. Exactly how much Nurture New York's Nature made from The Gates product licensing still has yet to be determined."We have so many deals out with so many people who are selling (products)," Jake Kheel said Monday. "The project just ended yesterday. It's been chaos around here."Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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