Like thousands of organizations across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic shut the Queens Museum (QM) doors in March 2020. Despite this temporary and significant impact on our operations, we were able to pivot quickly and successfully offer online programming to our constituents. Despite the closure of our physical space and a move to a more virtual experience, we renewed and expanded our commitment to the larger Corona community by partnering with La Jornada and Together We Can Community Resource Center Inc. to host an onsite food pantry starting in June 2020. This food pantry was created in direct response to the growing need for food for thousands of local residents. Since launching the pantry, we have provided over 14,000 residents with fresh and shelf stable food items. We also participated in Kind-er Garden at Home, a collaborative, community supported relief effort that provided families in Corona, Queens with plants, seeds, and materials to grow edible gardens in their homes.
QM also collaborated with Times Square Arts, and MTA Arts & Design on a new public art initiative by artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, on view on the facade of the Queens Museum, on the large-scale digital billboard at 20 Times Square, and across digital displays throughout the MTA subway and rail system. This art initiative is both a response to the pandemic and a gesture of gratitude via a direct address to New York City’s public service employees, in particular infrastructure workers – including sanitation and transit workers – who are sustaining the city through the COVID-19 pandemic. The message, written in the artist’s hand, is framed by the vibrant colors of safety green and emergency red/orange.
In order to better facilitate communication with the larger community we launched Queens Spotlight: Community Organizing Responses to COVID-19 in April 2020. This dedicated section in our weekly newsletter highlights community organizing work and provides insight into the vitality of this work within our borough during the pandemic. We also founded and continue to play an active role in the Elmhurst-Corona Recovery Coalition. This coalition comprises 22 partners, including local nonprofits and community organizations, and provides hyperlocal partnership for recovery, reconnection, renewal, and healing.
In terms of online programming, our education team provided many offerings to the thousands of teens we work with annually including, a Teens Remote Art Share and Stay at Home Guide for Teens, Sunday Family art marking workshops in Spanish in English, Uploads for Downtime which provided school students with downloadable art worksheets, and our New New Yorker Programs which hosted live video writing and artmaking sessions in Spanish and English with our immigrant communities. Our La Ventanita or The Little Window program asks children to look through all their little windows and share what they see or wish to see through a drawing, painting or another type of artwork. This is a way of connecting isolated children during this difficult time. For our senior population, we offered Learning about Art for Caregivers, with Queens Community House, providing opportunities for adult caregivers of persons with dementia or long term illness to discuss art via live video.
We are currently offering several exhibitions onsite. This includes: Bruce Davidson: Outsider on the Inside, Ulrike Müller and Amy Zion: The Conference of the Animals, After the Plaster Foundation, or, "Where can we live?", and Ridgewood Reservoir for the 21st Century, which is part of our Community Partnership Exhibition. Visitors can enjoy all of these exhibitions through January 17, 2021.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic means that our communities are even more challenged and dislocated than ever before. Now that we are back in our building, and in order to bring people closer together, we are placing our wide range of education and community initiatives at the heart of our work. Our on-site artist studios will be offered rent free to Queens-based artists, collectives, and community organizations. We will invite artists and small arts organizations from across disciplines living and working in Queens to come and use the Museum, and feature their work in monthly community days when content will be presented in the form of exhibitions, performances, and public and educational programming.
QM is embarking on a “Year of Uncertainty” (YoU) and is developing new strategies for connecting the Museum, our communities and constituents. YoU will be centered around themes of Care, Repair, Play, Justice, and The Future and will bring together established and emerging artists, collectives, community organizations, and specialists across disciplines. QM will dedicate space and resources to becoming a center for research, collaboration, and production, opening its public-facing efforts to internal processes, and vice versa.
As part of YoU, we have developed the YoU Artists-in-Residence which is a 18-month-long program where artists and cultural producers are invited to become a part of the fabric of the Museum, to work together with the QM team and our communities to reimagine how the Museum can be relevant locally and internationally.
Residents will be provided with free studio space, a stipend to make and support the production of work and will engage with the QM’s programmatic initiatives to research and produce virtual or in-person programs across strands of the Museum’s work including: Education, Interpretation, Public Programs, Community Engagement, Exhibitions, Books and Publications, Archives and Collections, Communications, Digital Content, and Visitor Services. Specifically, participants will receive:
- access to a rent-free studio at the QM (ranging from 300 to 550 square feet) and on-site production resources
- (woodshop and audiovisual studio) for 18 months (February 2021 - August 2022)
- professional development and mentorship opportunities from QM staff across all departments and 2021
- artist co-thinkers and mentors
- $10,000 budget to produce work to be presented in exhibitions or public-facing projects at QM
- $5,000 stipend for participating in the QM’s educational and community engagement initiatives
- $5,000 stipend for research time
Residents will be supported to develop projects for and with QM constituents and communities in diverse areas, including: Education, Community Engagement, Public Programs, Teens, Family, Seniors and Access Programs, as well as Digital Content.
Additionally, the Queens Museum YoU Partnership Program is a 12-month-long program where community organizations are invited to partner with the Museum and work with the Museum’s team, artists, and communities to reimagine how the institution can be relevant locally and internationally. Community Partners will play a key role during the YoU to center the creative, organizing, and advocacy work of their communities in relation to this shared investigation of what a museum can be.
Community Partners will be provided with a budget for their participation in the YoU and to support the production of a community driven project, initiative, or campaign, taking place at the Museum and/or across Queens. Specifically, Community Partners will receive:
- access to the Queens Museum shared bookable community studio space
- support to develop projects for and with Queens Museum constituents and communities in diverse areas, including: Education, Community Engagement, Public Programs, Teens, Family, Seniors and Access Programs, and Digital Content
- a budget of $5,000 for participation in the year-long YoU and the realization of educational and community-engagement initiatives, exhibitions, or public-facing projects with the Queens Museum
- opportunities to collaborate with Queens Museum staff across all departments, artists selected through the Queens Museum Year of Uncertainty Artists-in-Residence open call, co-thinkers and mentors
We are also looking to our other partners in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and work together as a united campus to understand how our collective resources can be most effective and useful for the neighborhoods most hard-hit by the pandemic. For QM, this means making sure that we look at this recovery through the lens of arts and culture, as we strongly believe that a healthy cultural life will be an important part of the recovery and well-being of our communities. We will work with them to provide spaces of care and creativity, to nurture both the heart and soul of our communities, as well as the relevance of our organization. Education and community organizing are core to us all and they will enable us to replenish and make visible as well as nurture and provide care for our communities. For us that includes artists and educators, and a potentially lost generation of cultural workers.