Since our founding in 1979 as the Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts, our mission has been to promote intercultural exchange among the diverse communities that make the borough their home.
It is crucial that Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council support efforts to infuse $40 million in additional funding to the Department of Cultural Affairs budget in the next fiscal year to support the city’s vibrant, immigrant-serving cultural organizations that will benefit from this funding.
Working with immigrant communities is time and labor intensive, requiring persistence, linguistic and cultural knowledge.
At Flushing Town Hall, our extremely diverse staff provides an incredibly diverse array of cultural programs that serve the numerous immigrant communities in Queens.
We also offer distinctive arts education programs that highlight folk arts from all over the world, making those artistic traditions, and the master tradition-bearers who carry them on, accessible to New York City school children in a way that schools cannot provide on their own.
In addition, as part of the city’s 33-member Cultural Institutions Group, we have provided free memberships to IDNYC cardholders over the last year, and we have seen our membership increase substantially.
Our immediate neighborhood hosts one of the largest Chinese communities in the world, and so we have made special efforts over recent years to serve this community in particular through the development of a Chinese Cultural Committee, made up of community leaders, business people, artists and arts workers.
We also have created a dedicated staff position, our Manager of Chinese Community Initiatives, to work with the Chinese community and lead that committee. This committee serves as a bridge between the residents of Flushing and Flushing Town Hall, which is perceived as a “mainstream cultural institution.”
The committee communicates with immigrants about who we are, what we do and what we have to offer, and it serves as a bridge between Chinese immigrants and residents of different backgrounds.
Through this committee, we have provided a platform where immigrants’ voices can be heard and their values appreciated. Community residents advise Flushing Town Hall on programs, local artists contribute their talents, and local Chinese business owners sponsor programs as a way of getting greater community recognition.
The committee educates and encourages Chinese immigrants on civil participation through local arts and cultural activities, and, in fact, notifies residents about the benefits of IDNYC.
And, it also translates cultural differences in a more relatable fashion, helping new immigrants from China understand the idea of nonprofit organizations, while also helping our organization better understand cultural nuances, interests and concerns.
Our region’s population of new Chinese immigrants is comprised of many low-income residents. Yet, as a testament to their support for Flushing Town Hall, we have witnessed a tripling of annual individual contributions from the Chinese community during this current fiscal year.
If art is the heart and soul of a city, then we need the residents to reflect that as a whole. Even though many immigrants struggle with finances and time, often working multiple jobs, it is our responsibility to let them know we are right at their doorstep with high-quality arts and performances at affordable prices.
It also is our responsibility to let them know that we are here to serve them. “Guan-si,” or relationships, take time to build up. We need your support to our initiatives so that we can all build a wider, stronger bridge between New York City’s cultural institutions and our vibrant immigrant communities.
Ellen Kodadek is the executive and artistic director of Flushing Town Hall.