City Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) secured $700,000 in funding for 17 art institutions throughout Queens and visited some of them last week to learn about their projects for the summer and the ensuing year.
“We have this rich legacy of art, culture and music in southeast Queens,” Miller said about his June 26 visits. “The world has embraced it. I don’t know if we’ve embraced it, and I wanted to highlight that, particularly for the next generation.”
The first institution he stopped by was the Jamaica Center for Arts Learning, at 161-04 Jamaica Ave. The organization has over 40 programs.
“We have a hub for the arts that we can use to attract people to come down here,” Miller said. “We have a lot to offer here, and we need to train our young people in the arts so that they can be well-rounded, holistically, and the programs here are also for our seniors who are painting, quilting and tapping.”
Lincoln Center BORO-LINC set up an art exhibit at the Center, featuring pieces by children and their families who were trained by Artist-in-Residence Emmett Wigglesworth. Wigglesworth is a retired U.S. Marine, muralist, painter, poet, fabric designer and 20-year Queens resident who has art displayed throughout Ghana and the United States.
“They create these family murals, tapestries and sculptures, and it is an opportunity for the family to do work together and have fun,” said Cathy Hung, the executive director of JCAL.
Christopher Williams, a composer and choreographer-in-residence at JCAL, was elated about the funding for the center.
“This enabled me to have a valuable number of studio hours that I would have to rent myself,” Williams said. “It saves me an incredible amount of money and allows me to embark on my creative process that is more organic and its not rushed. I’m not pinching every penny.”
With the money that he saves, Williams gets to pay his dancers as he choreographs a romantic opera based on a series of ancient texts called the Mabinogi — the Welsh version of Arthurian tales, according to the composer.
Andrew Clarke, the founder of Braata Productions, was happy about receiving funds for his organization and couldn’t wait to extol the importance of old Caribbean music.
“Braata Productions is a Caribbean performing arts center with an emphasis on the preservation of folk music,” Clarke said. “The old folks’ music is not being appreciated and that’s sad because that is where the music started. Reggae was Rock Steady, and before that it was Ska, and before that it was folk music, meaning Mento, which is the basis for all our music.”
Clarke wants to continue educating Caribbean-Americans, and those not familiar with older Caribbean music, through folk performances at his center, located 118-05 on 200th St. at St. Albans.
Rudolph Shaw, the Guyanese artistic director of the Caribbean American Repertory Theatre Inc., was thankful for Miller’s contributions to the arts in Queens.
“We focus on mainly Caribbean, African-American theatre,” Shaw said. “Through the councilman’s funding, we were able to do a tribute to Irving Burgie, who lives in this area.”
Burgie, a Bajan-American songwriter, is responsible for several of Harry Belafonte’s hits, including “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” according to Shaw.
Shaw is currently working on a revised version of “To Sir, with Love,” written by fellow Guyanese playwright E. R. Braithwaite, who passed away at 104 last year.
The theatre is located at 114-13 Ovid Place in St. Albans.
Councilman Miller later left JCAL to visit Carl Clay, the CEO of Black Spectrum Theatre.
“The funding that we receive is vital for Black Spectrum Theatre’s organization,” Clay said. “It’s mandatory if we are going to operate.”
Black Spectrum does 50 events each year, including concerts, after-school programs, theatre and films that have gone on to be featured in film festivals around the world. Some films have been in the San Francisco International Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival.
Shaw plans to showcase a play called “King Fish” in the fall. It is about the first-ever all-black comedy show that was featured on television.
Black Spectrum Theatre is located at 119-07 Merrick Blvd.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose