Even in a city known for its architecture and history, Flushing Town Hall manages to stand out. The stately brick building, complete with turrets, was constructed in 1862 — before the village of Flushing was consolidated into New York City. It was built with the intention of welcoming back the northern soldiers from fighting in the Civil War. What is currently the theater area used to be a courthouse; the dressing room and elevator were jail cells.
Now, Flushing Town Hall, a Smithsonian Institution affiliate, is dedicated to presenting global arts programming that engages and educates the global communities of Queens, greater New York City and beyond.
“Our mission is to bring people together by presenting arts and culture from around the world. And even though our name is Flushing Town Hall, we don’t only serve Flushing, we serve the entire New York City metropolitan region, Long Island, New Jersey and more,” said executive and artistic director Ellen Kodadek.
During the height of the pandemic, the connectivity of the internet helped Flushing Town reach new audiences. Schools from Nebraska and California participated in educational programs, while viewers from around the globe joined the audience during musical events.
“Our tiny corner of New York City expanded significantly when we got online,” Kokadek said.
In total, Flushing Town Hall hosted more than 400 online programs during the shutdown, from spring 2020 to most recently, and plans to continue offering viewers a virtual option.
In-person programming, to the delight of many loyal concert-goers, returned earlier this month.
Nobody was quite as excited as Pamela Petties, affectionately known within Flushing Town Hall as Auntie Pam. Petties, 81, who has lived in Flushing for the past 47 years (and plans to live there for the next 47, she said), has been a longtime supporter.
“It was so great, I was on the telephone with the regular audience family and we said thank God, we missed it because we’re almost like a family, the audience and the musicians that come,” Petties said. “There are at least 20 musicians that have been playing with us off and on for the last 10 years. And they’re just top notch.”
And while live music — especially with the caliber of performers brought in by Flushing Town Hall — can be prohibitively expensive, the institution prides itself on having programming that is accessible to the entire community; tickets typically range from about $5 to $15, with discounts for members and students.
In addition to serving the community as a whole, Flushing Town Hall is going to play a larger role in the local arts scene. Just last week it was announced it would be taking over responsibility for administering more than $100,000 in grants funded by the New York State Council on the Arts for artists in Queens. The grants had previously been administered for decades by Queens Council on the Arts (QCA), an organization local artists have long complained is plagued by mismanagement.
“[It’s] an arts council that does not support its artists, that’s the larger issue,” said Queens-based artist KC Trommer. “They have a real estate-heavy board — so no artists on the board — and they are consistently delayed in paying the artists the grants they are awarded.”
While the responsibility of state-funded grants was transferred to Flushing Town Hall, QCA is still responsible for administering city grants, funded through the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA). DCLA commissioner Gonzalo Casals hosted a listening session last week, inviting the arts community to discuss their experiences with QCA. Many spoke out, despite fear of repercussions.
“QCA has been the only game in town, it’s the only way artists can get funding within this borough. So this is part of why people don’t want to jeopardize their funding streams by speaking out, and QCA knows this,” Trommer said. “And QCA also knows that people don’t really understand how the funding structure works, which is something you don’t really have to learn until you’re trying to show that there is corruption happening.”
Trommer, along with many in the arts community, hopes that the city too will consider transferring its funding away from QCA.
“It’s a really big deal that these [state] funds have been moved to Flushing Town Hall, it’s huge,” she said. “At Flushing Town Hall, there are several people there who used to be at QCA who left for a variety of reasons, most of them reasons of consciousness. It’s a respected institution and it’s my sense that they are going to manage it conscientiously and with the artists in mind.”
In a statement emailed to Epicenter-NYC, Kodadek said Flushing Town Hall was honored to accept the opportunity.
“NYSCA provides generous and critical funding to the arts sector. As a re-granting partner, Flushing Town Hall will be of service to our colleagues in the field, helping disburse funds to Queens’ visionary arts presenters and talented, hardworking artists. We are proud to be part of a large and vibrant, artistic community in Queens that serves a wonderfully diverse, global audience,” she said.
Upcoming programming includes:
Common Ground: Mini-Global Mashup #2 – Balkan Meets Ukraine on Sunday, Oct. 10 at 1 p.m.
Common Ground features artists seemingly different in discipline, practices or cultural identity who explore global connections, celebrating distinctions that make cultures unique. This mashup will feature Brooklyn-based singer Eva Salina, a interpreter of Balkan Romani (gypsy) songs joined by her duo partner, accordionist Peter Stan and Zhenya Lopatnik, who speaks five languages, and uses this vast cultural knowledge to perform bold, meaningful music that combines American, Russian, Hebrew, and Ukrainian culture.
$15/$12 members; virtual: $7/$5 members
Louis Armstrong Legacy Monthly Jazz Jam on Wednesday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m.
The second Wednesday of each month, Flushing Town Hall invites professional jazz musicians, graduate students studying jazz, music educators and serious hobbyists to perform. All are welcome, regardless of instrument (vocalists, too!). $10/free for members, students and jamming musicians.
Learn more about upcoming events, tickets and membership opportunities here.