By Victoria Merlino
Who should make art? And who should decide which art will be made?
These are the questions the Queens Council on the Arts tries to answer through its Artist Commissioning Program, which empowers local members of the Queens community, or “art producers,” to commission borough-based choreographers, playwrights and composers. The QCA chooses the producers, who select local artists to fund and support with $10,000 awards.
The program “democratizes the traditional commissioning process, which has historically been reserved for a privileged few,” QCA states on its website.
Four artists were chosen this year by a panel of art producers to create works that would explore underrepresented viewpoints in American culture and represent the cultural diversity found in Queens. The artists previewed their upcoming works to QCA supporters on July 25 at the Queens Botanical Garden. All of the artists will make their full debut within the next couple of months.
Playwright Yogi “Y?” Guyadin spoke about his new experimental theater piece “Shooter,” which explores the dynamics between victims and perpetrators of gun violence. During his preview, he instructed random members of the audience to pair up, have one member of each pair make their fingers into the shape of a gun, and then hold the position while looking into the other person’s eyes.
Audience members described feeling uneasy and uncomfortable by the exercise.
Guyadin then explained that he had other groups complete this exercise before with replica weapons instead of just fingers, asking, “Who is the victim, the shooter, or the shot?” Many said both.
“I’m not a playwright. I got paid to be a playwright,” Guyadin told the audience after his performance, which also draws from autobiographical experience growing up in Jamaica, Queens. “But, art is everything, and everything is art,” he continued.
“Shooter” premieres Aug. 3.
Dancer and choreographer Kerri Edge previewed “Reform,” her piece on the criminal justice system, based on the true stories of presently or formerly incarcerated African-American men. The piece utilizes tap dance, music, video and more to get its message across, and the preview audience was treated to a live, complex tap performance by one of the show’s performers, Omar Edwards.
“Reform” premieres Sept. 20.
Composer and music technologist Claire Marie Lim, otherwise known as dolltr!ck, previewed songs from her new album, “Colors of Us,” which draws on the experiences of female-identifying youth of Asian descent from Queens as inspiration for electronic dance music. Lim, who herself was born in Singapore, collaborated with 50 middle schoolers and high schoolers to create the project.
Lim spoke about how one of Queens’ greatest assets is its diversity. “In the diversity, however, sometimes certain things can get lost,” she said. “You can get lost in the sauce of all these delicious sauces … sorry,” Lim said, laughing, as the crowd cheered. “And that was really the reason why I think I really wanted to make this project happen, and give a chance for some of these unheard voices to be heard.”
Lim’s album premieres Sept. 15.
Guanglei Hui, a dancer and choreographer, was unable to attend to preview, though the audience was given insight into his new piece “The Silent Voices,” which “depicts the true lives of Chinese immigrants through body language,” according to a description. The artist, who is an immigrant himself, utilizes his own experiences to power the piece. It premieres Oct. 20.
All four of the premieres will be free to attend. To RSVP or learn more about each, visit queenscouncilarts.org.