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Queens Artist Challenges New Yorkers to Be Nice in New Project

QUEENS — Priscilla Stadler has a challenge for New Yorkers this month: be nice.

The Long Island City-based artist is running FAVORS, an interactive art project that asks residents to do something kind for someone else, in the hopes of defying the age-old stereotype of New Yorkers as tough and cold-hearted.

"I think most people like the challenge of trying to disprove that myth," Stadler said. "New Yorkers — in spite of our gruffness at times, and our pushing each other out of the way to get a seat on the subway — most people do try to help one another when they can."

During the month of April, Stadler is working with a number of Queens-based community groups and appealing to her fellow New Yorkers through Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr to do a favor for someone else and report the details of their good deed.

"Send me the who, what, where and when of the favor," Stadler said, adding that she's encouraging submissions with photo or video documentation. "Quirky and unusual favors are invited."

Stadler will track the reported favors on an interactive online map, and will eventually use the submissions to create a temporary sculpture installation later this year made of hanging paper spirals, each bearing information about a different act of kindness.

The project is supported by a grant from the Queens Council on the Arts.

Stadler is keeping the definition of a favor fairly open, in order to give participants leeway, though there are a few basic rules.

"It should take three hours or under, it should not involve any kind of money of coercion, and it has to be legal," she said.

Several Queens community groups are participating in the project. Students in the drama club at Flushing High School will be doing anonymous good deeds for people at the school, Sunnyside Community Services is getting its seniors involved in doing favors, and the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance plans to host a workshop to discuss acts of kindness witnessed after Hurricane Sandy.

On April 19, the project will host an event called FAVORS Party/Party FAVORS at LaGuardia Performing Arts Center for all of its community partners to come together. Stadler said she hopes to spark a dialogue about what it means to do something good for someone else.

"There are a lot of different aspects to the act of doing somebody a favor, which I find really interesting," she said.

The FAVORS project is inspired by a similar interactive work Stadler did in a week-long exhibit at an art gallery in Chicago. In addition to documenting the favors of others, she asked anyone who came by the gallery to ask a favor of her.

In the course of the week, she did a number of favors: she helped a young mother look for a job, installed a strainer in the gallery's bathroom sink and engaged in discussion with a philosopher who dropped in looking for a debate.

The most unusual favor she was asked: to ship a large sausage pizza from Chicago to Florida.

The favor-asker, she said, had gone to college in Illinois and had a favorite nostalgic pizza joint in the area, and wanted to send one of the pies to an old college buddy living in the Sunshine State.

So Stadler worked it out with the pizzeria — the pizza was cooked halfway, then frozen for the trip — and then crafted her own pizza-shaped Express Mail box to hold the pie.

"It ended up working out amazingly," she said, saying even the pizzeria got involved in the FAVORS project.

"They actually ended up donating the pizza."