QAX_JULY

Queens Art Express (QAX) is an annual spring arts festival of exhibitions, events, performances, and great places to eat in the vibrant cultural communities of Queens NY — along the route of the No. 7 train and beyond. The event is a project of the Queens Council on the Arts. The 2012 festival was held June 14-17.

QAX 2012 promoted arts activity across the borough, and commissioned 12 creators to produce new collaborative works that imagined a world where artists decide public policy. That spirit of collaboration and expansion reflected the festival’s larger goals. The Moveable Feast, for example, a QAX dining promotion, marketed neighborhood eateries selected by local artists and curators.

Judging from public and media response, the festival won new ground for Queens in areas of collaboration, engagement, and branding. QAX 2012 was co-developed and produced by marketing strategist Brian Tate, who specializes in leveraging the arts to market destinations. We asked Brian about the festival’s impact on the community.

ARTPLACE: What will be different in Queens as a result of QAX?

BRIAN: First, we helped shift the way artists and arts audiences think about Queens as a cultural destination.

ARTPLACE: Why is that important?

BRIAN: There are four goals of any destination event, and the first three are to heighten visibility, foot traffic and economic activity for the surrounding community. That happens by changing the way people think and feel about a place — particularly in relation to neighboring destinations with bigger budgets or stronger branding. For Queens, those competitors are Manhattan and Brooklyn. Our strategy was to leverage Queens’ position as the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world, to brand it as the home of arts experimentation and traditions that can’t be found anywhere else on the globe. Our message was direct: If you want to experience authentic arts, ideas and cuisine that draw from an evolving mix of cultures, come to Queens.

ARTPLACE: How did you measure your effectiveness?

BRIAN: Attendance, online buzz, media coverage, anecdotal reporting. We’re talking long-range perceptions and behavior which are difficult to track without equally long-range data gathering, but the initial responses are strong. Poet/performance ArtistQueen GodIs wrote: “Major gratitude for including me! QAX is a GREAT idea and truly gave me room to grow and explore as an artist.” Ged Merino of Bliss on Bliss Studio wrote, “QAX was a lot more proactive this year. I had several inquiries before my event, which we were very excited about, (including) from people in the neighborhood who were happy to find out about us.”

ARTPLACE: You described three of the four objectives of a destination event. What’s the fourth?

BRIAN: Civic pride. It’s the most intangible and in many ways the most important. It fuels all the other goals. Pride creates an emotional connection between an audience and a community. It gives people a reason to fall in love with a place, for either the first time or the tenth time.

ARTPLACE: Can you track it?

BRIAN: You can feel it, when visitors mingle with residents and everyone feels they belong there. Maria Boobis of Crossing Art wrote, “Our ‘regulars’ felt this was the best exhibition and turn out to date. They were quite pleased by the new faces and the diversity of the crowd. The feedback was amazingly positive!”


“Symbols, Movement and Surroundings,” featuring Hsiao-Ting Hsieh Hsiao-Wei Hsieh

ARTPLACE: What other ground did QAX cover?

BRIAN: We built new excitement among NYC artists for Queens as a lab for creating work. The artists we commissioned are all influencers, breakthrough creators with their own followings. For many of them Queens was uncharted territory, and their reactions were telling. Singer-songwriter Toshi Reagon wrote: “It was great to be inside of what felt like evolving art. Totally blown away.” Performance artist Theresa Byrnes wrote: “What an amazing experience it was to meet & work with all of you! I LOVE QUEENS!!!!”

ARTPLACE: How did Queens-based artists and arts presenters respond?

BRIAN: Enthusiastically. By packaging everyone’s events as part of a larger whole, we created a new sense of possibility and partnership among local stakeholders. Queens artist Mary Teresa Giancoli wrote: “Thanks for this opportunity. It was a great chance to showcase work! The website and social media made an impact.” Frank Verbsky of Forest Hills Symphony Orchestra wrote: “There is always talk of cooperation between arts organizations but it has never gotten off the ground. I do hope you will continue.” Maria Boobis of Crossing Art said, “This year’s QAX was an opportunity for the community to get together and prove that Manhattan isn’t the only art borough.”

ARTPLACE: Any other milestones?

BRIAN: We showcased events at 51 venues in 13 Queens neighborhoods, helping presenters attract new audiences and spin-off commerce to their neighborhoods. It’s our belief and intention that once audiences have a meaningful experience at a place, they’ll return. More important, they’ll develop new ideas about it as a place where wonderful and unexpected things can happen. The effect is multiplied when artists and presenters envision the borough itself as their stage. José E Rodríguez of the Queens Museum of Art wondered what role he could play in presenting the street-based performance of twin Taiwanese dancers Hsiao-Wei and Hsiao-Ting Hsieh. “Then I received the yearly open call for Queens Art Express,” he wrote. “Exactly. What could be more perfect? Dancing twins, the 7 train, and QAX.” That kind of energy sparks creates the next round of opportunity, and it’s a huge win.

PHOTO: Artist Chanel Kennebrew (on right), in conversation at a QAX opening on artists and the economy.

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