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Jamaica Performance Center Got $22M Refurb, But Can't Afford Shows

 The center says it’s not getting enough money from the city.
Jamaica Performing Arts Center
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QUEENS — A state-of-the-art performance center in Jamaica hosts only a few shows a month and is often closed because the city does not provide it with enough money to operate, the center and Jamaica officials say.

The Jamaica Performing Arts Center (JPAC), a former church that underwent a $22 million renovation, opened in 2008 with the hope of turning a struggling neighborhood into an arts destination.

But instead of hosting music and dance performances and neighborhood events, the center sits unused most days of the week, and has been unable to put on as many shows as it had hoped, its representatives said.

“It’s a beautiful facility and the community waited for it to open,” said Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Community Board 12. “But they are not having enough events and unfortunately it sits closed.”

In 2012, the city Department of Cultural Affairs provided about $500,000 to the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning to operate the performing arts center and other art programs in the neighborhood.

But the organization says it costs $200,000 annually to operate JPAC. That amount, the group says, is not enough to hold events regularly, only to maintain staff and to pay for general maintenance.

"At first we were glad to get it, but we didn’t realize how much it would cost to operate it," said Carl Fields, interim executive director of the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, designated by the city to operate and manage JPAC since 2009.

Fields said he applied for supplemental funds for the new facility, but even that has dried up.

In the first two years, he said, the organization received about $125,000 in supplemental funds from the city. In the third year, he said, the subsidy was about $75,000.

“Last year, we didn’t get anything,” he said.

Over the past three years, Fields said, the organization was forced to lay off five employees and to reduce its work week.

But the city says it’s providing the group with enough money.

“City funding for this organization is very generous and makes up around 60 percent of their total budget,” Danai Pointer, a spokeswoman for the Department of Cultural Affairs, wrote in an email.

The city, she said, also provides energy subsidies to the organization and recently invested about $8 million to renovate the group’s main building, upgrading its galleries and studio space.

The Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning operates one of the largest community centers in Queens. It serves about 28,000 people a year, providing art workshops, after-school programs, film screenings and dance performances, the organization said.

The new performing arts center was supposed to add even more cultural events to the neighborhood.

The new facility is housed in the First Reformed Dutch Church of Jamaica, which was built in 1858. The city had planned to demolish it since the 1970s, but local groups and activists convinced the city to convert it into an art space instead.

The center has 400 seats, a stage, a rehearsal space, a movie screen and two dressing rooms.

Carlisle Towery, president of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization that helped save the church, said the hope was that the city would provide more money for the center after it was renovated.

“We understood clearly when it came online that there would be additional money to operate it as a city performing art center," Towery said. “That happened in very small amount, so it has been a huge burden on Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning.”

Carl Fields said the center has received some funding from Jamaica’s city councilmen Leroy Comrie and James Gennaro, including $15,000 last year.

The organization is also trying to raise money by renting JPAC for conferences, events and parties.

“Hopefully it will get better and [JCAL] will be able to get more money to operate it,” Reddick said. “I would love to see some jazz groups there, some drama groups, some concerts. It would be nice.”