Cultural Affairs Commissioner Cites Rockaway as Model Arts Community

By Katie Honan on April 7, 2014 5:15pm 

 Tom Finkelpearl has been at the Queens Museum since 2002.
Tom Finkelpearl has been at the Queens Museum since 2002.
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Queens Museum/Ramiro Chavez

CORONA — The city's newest cultural affairs commissioner hopes to improve communities in all five boroughs through art — and is looking to the Rockaway peninsula as a model, he announced Monday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed the current director of the Queens Museum, Tom Finkelpearl, as the newest commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Finkelpearl was at the helm of the museum as it underwent a decade-long, $70 million renovation and he'll reportedly oversee a $156 million budget at DCA.

When asked how the "growing arts and cultural community" in Rockaway offered any guidance about helping other neighborhoods around the city expand, Finkelpearl — who lives in Lower Manhattan but has owned a home in Rockaway since 2005   said "there’s a lot to be learned in Rockaway."

"There’s a lot of issues always when artists are infused in a community," he said.

"Arts moving into neighborhoods can have a variety of different effects  not of all which are good for everybody in every neighborhood," he said.

"And that’s something we’ll look at very carefully. And that’s something I’ve been witnessing very closely."

His experience in both the arts and including diverse communities in his museum planning was touted by the mayor.

“With his decades of experience in fortifying the city’s cultural institutions, Tom has developed a deep understanding of the powerful role art and culture play in moving our city forward, and the necessity of increasing access to our creative landmarks for all New Yorkers,” de Blasio said.

He said Finkelpearl "represents the values of this administration — to make arts something for everyone, to reach all across the five boroughs, every neighborhoods, people of every background, and bring them in deeply into the extraordinary cultural life of this city."

The mayor, reminding the crowd that he's a "proud Brooklynite," applauded Queens' diversity and said the museum is a great reflection of that.

"It exemplifies all that’s good about this borough," he said.

Last year, MoMA P.S 1 opened a temporary art space on Beach 95th Street, supported by the museum's curator, Klaus Biesenbach, who also has a home on the peninsula.  

It was the newest artistic venture for neighborhoods with a rich artistic history, most notably through the Rockaway Artist Alliance, which was formed in 1994. 

For Finkelpearl, his new position will be a return to the Department of Cultural Affairs, where he spent time as the director of its public art program in 1990.

He got his start in arts management at PS 1 Contemporary Art Center in 1982, and returned to the museum as its deputy director as it merged with MoMA in 2000.

He became the executive director of the Queens Museum in 2002 and helped oversee its renovation, which added 50,000-square-feet of space by taking over the old skating rink in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

The new museum includes more galleries, performance and event spaces and has continued its outreach to local community groups.

It recently hosted a poetry festival, holds regular workshops for children with autism and is the site of an arts engagement program in collaboration with Queens College.

Finkelpearl said at the museum's unveiling in October that it was being transformed "from a quirky and beloved smaller institution to something that has greater ambition."

"But we're in no way turning our back to the community," he said.

"We're dedicated to the 'Queensness' of it."

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