March 20, 2015 By Michael Florio
The Cultural Town Hall meeting that took place in Long Island City Wednesday night did not address the artistic merit of a controversial sculpture that is coming to the neighborhood—but how the artwork was selected.
Tom Finkelpearl, the Commissioner of the Dept. of Cultural Affairs, and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, spoke before a packed audience at MoMA PS 1 where there was standing room only. They tackled a number of issues such as the selection of public art, affordable studio space for artists as well as new arts-related legislation.
The meeting was organized following the public outcry concerning The Sunbather, a bright pink, 8 ½ feet tall sculpture planned to be placed at 43rd Ave and Jackson Ave. There was little criticism about the artwork itself, with questions focused more on how it was selected and how a location was chosen.
Lisa Deller, Chairwoman of Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee, said the community should have more input into these decisions.
“I would love to see more engagement on potential sites, way before the artist is even selected,” she said. “There should be a discussion with the community.”
Several attendees also called for greater community input before a piece of art is selected—and so too did Van Bramer.
Finkelpearl said the current selection process has been effective for the past 30 years. He said that a three-person panel comprised of art professionals make the selections.
Richard Khuzami, who is the chairman of Community Board 1’s Consumer Affairs committee, said the community should have a representative on the panel. “You need the input of the non-artists within the community because they have to live with it.”
Finkelpearl, however, said that it would be hard to fully gauge the opinion of the community, since the negative voices–which could be in the minority–often speak the loudest.
“At what point do you say there is enough negative input?” he asked.
Van Bramer said he is drafting legislation that would provide the public with the opportunity to express their views on a proposal, and make the process more transparent.
For instance, many attendees said that they had no idea about the sculpture until after the plans were revealed.
Van Bramer said his legislation calls for greater public notification, and that the Department of Cultural Affairs would be required to provide at least one public hearing, with advance notification.
“This allows the department to hear the public,” he said.
The legislation would also require that the selection process would take place in the community where the artwork would be located.
The evening veered off toward the hot-button issues of affordable studio space and apartments.
One resident said that there is a lack of affordable studio space in Long Island City. She said that many dance and art studios as well as costume shops have already been priced out of both Manhattan and now Queens, and the remaining ones will soon be gone.
“If things don’t change fast, there won’t be any studios left in five years,” she said.
She said that artists need to have the security that they won’t be priced out down the road. She said in the past few months the rent has risen nearly 40 percent in some buildings and that many artist can’t afford the increase.
“We cannot live like that, not knowing what we are going to be doing down the road [when a lease ends],” she said
“We need an arts district in this neighborhood,” she exclaimed.
Van Bramer agreed with her.
“We have to create something different to ensure these art spaces continue to exist,” Van Bramer said. “We share common goals.”
Artists also expressed concern about affordable housing.
Van Bramer said that the de Blasio administration has recently announced a housing plan to create 1,500 affordable units for artist, as well as 500 units of affordable work studios, over the next 10 years.
“We have to make sure artists can live, create and make some money in New York City,” Van Bramer said.