Boro’s diversity on display in ‘Crossing the BLVD’

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According to the 2000 Census, 44 percent of Queens' population is foreign-born, making it the most diverse county in the United States. Artist and educator Judith Sloan is celebrating that diversity with an exhibit of photographs and sound stations at Queens College entitled "Crossing the BLVD" and an accompanying concert on April 30 that will feature an array of multi-cultural, interdisciplinary arts.

"The diversity of Queens has been our inspiration," Sloan said.

Sloan and her husband Warren Lehrer, who live in Long Island City, have been touring with the show since 2004, curating each concert with local talent. For the upcoming performance in Queens, Judith has enlisted Da-Da-Dance, Leila Buck, Elise Knudson & Teresa Kochis, hip-hop/punk band Game Rebellion and Frank London and the Klezmatics.

Sloan is a drama instructor, actress, oral historian and audio artist who has produced several programs for NPR, such as the 2005 "Opening Up Language Through Tongue Twisters," about her experiences teaching English to new immigrants by having them share linguistic games from their own languages.

For most of her life, Sloan said, she has had a deep interest in providing outlets for the voiceless. When she was 22, she met some elderly ladies at a nursing home who told her "beautiful, tender stories" that she hadn't heard before. It inspired a theatrical project involving interviews with Holocaust survivors, for which she received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Connecticut Humanities Council.

Since then, Sloan opened a nonprofit in 1999 called Earsay, an organization that offers a variety of artistic programs ranging from workshops and lectures to theater performances such as "Crossing the BLVD," that deal with "uncelebrated" people and their stories.

"Crossing the BLVD" is a project of Earsay and will feature a segment entitled "Sweeping Statements," an audio project Sloan did for NPR. This is the first time Sloan has done a live performance of the piece, and it will feature monologues backed up by Frank London and the Klezmatics and Game Rebellion.

Another segment of the show, called "What's your Status," concerns American-born immigrants dealing with bureaucracy and other legal issues regarding work visas and citizenship. The monologues will be acted out by dancer Theresa Kochis and choreographed by Elise Knudson. There's a particular focus on women in "What's your Status" and Sloan said she wanted to spotlight them because "it's harder for women to navigate the world." She's heard a lot of stories about women staying married to abusive husbands for green cards, for example, an issue she thinks needs more widespread attention.

The program also includes the work of Queens College students, directed by Charles Repole, the chair of the Drama Department at Queens College. Sloan wanted to give students an opportunity to work alongside professionals, because it would give the students a window onto pursuing the arts professionally. She likened the experience to a sporting competition: "When you play tennis with someone who is better than you, you rise to the occasion," she said.

The accompanying "Crossing the Blvd" exhibit at the Kupferberg Center features 90 large portraits and some landscape pictures by Lehrer and "sound stations" where visitors can listen to first-hand accounts of immigrants' struggles in America. It is on display through June 28.

Sloan and Lehrer will be given a citation for their work in "Crossing the BLVD" by the New American Democratic Club, a political organization that educates immigrants about the American political system and has helped elect minority politicians such as John Liu (D-Flushing), the first Asian-American city councilman in New York.

Dilip Nath, the chairman of NADC, said that ethnic groups had become so numerous and spread out in Queens that they didn't have the political power to sway elections as they have in the past. He stressed an importance for minorities to unite. "What Judith and Warren did in 'Crossing the Blvd' was an effort to unite the Queens community and we wanted to recognize that tremendous contribution," he said.

If You Go:

Crossing the BLVD: Strangers, Neighbors, Aliens in a New America

Date: Through June 28

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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