Everyone knows New York City is one of the world’s capitals of culture, offering everything from Broadway musicals to the Museum of Natural History and, here in Queens, everything from the art galleries that feature so prominently in Long Island City to a library system that has more than 60 branches and boasts the largest circulation in the country.
Everyone knows. Right? Or do they?
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who chairs the committee with oversight over libraries and cultural affairs, is among those who most wants to make sure that New Yorkers know what’s out there. And this week he focused on making sure senior citizens in particular are aware of all the cultural activities the city offers. On Monday Van Bramer chaired a hearing on the subject, along with Councilman David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn), who heads the Subcommittee on Senior Centers.
The hearing featured more than a dozen speakers testifying about cultural activities geared toward older residents, and one vivid example — a dance performance by members of two senior centers in Manhattan. The show was put together by SPARC, or Seniors Partnering with Artists Citywide, a program that sees creative talents go into nearly 50 senior centers around the Big Apple and provide members the opportunity to participate in the arts.
Van Bramer said the performance was touching, especially when one member of the troupe gently touched the face of another as their roles changed, a moment that he said put some of the roughly 70 people in the audience in tears.
SPARC is just the kind of program Van Bramer wants to ensure seasoned New Yorkers know about.
“We want to make sure that all seniors, whether they go to senior centers or not, know that there are cultural activities available to them, and that they are affordable and that they can get to them,” Van Bramer said after the hearing.
One way the councilman wants to get more information about cultural activities to seniors is to take the list of events that the city Department of Cultural Affairs posts online and put it in pamphlets that can be distributed to senior centers. Though many older people use the internet, there are some who still prefer to see such things on paper, he explained.
Another goal of Van Bramer’s is to increase the availability of city transportation for seniors who want to go to centers or cultural events. And he wants to make sure that institutions such as museums and theater groups continue to offer discounted rates to seniors.
Just a few among the many programs Queens arts and cultural groups already offer seniors are a film series at the Queens Museum, concerts at senior centers put on by the Bayside-based Queensborough Performing Arts Center and the Senior Stars variety show at the Astoria Performing Arts Center.
Van Bramer noted that the National Endowment for the Arts recently did a report on how the arts can impact human development in a positive manners, a study that included a chapter on older people.
“The summary cited early evidence that links participation in arts interventions with improvement in cognitive functioning, self-esteem, memory, general well-being, stress levels and even symptoms of dementia,” says a document the City Council committees prepared for Monday’s hearing. The briefing paper notes that the NEA concluded that there is a need for more research into how the arts improve the lives and health of older people.
Research of course costs money, as do the expanded services Van Bramer envisions for the city’s seniors. But the councilman says those more than pay for themselves, because cultural programs make a profit by drawing tourism.
“There’s no question in my mind that the city does better when it supports culture and the arts,” the councilman said. “Senior programming is one part, but you may have heard me say culture and the arts are the one revenue-generating part of the budget.”
That’s not counting ticket-writing agencies, he added, but he wants seniors to get more culture, not more summonses.
Older Adults Day May 22 at Flushing Library
The Queens Library, one of the borough’s bastions of activities geared toward seniors, is hosting a special event for older residents, their families and caregivers from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 22 at the Flushing Branch. All are welcome.
Entitled Older Adults Day, the event will feature big band music, job services and information on everything from the library’s large-print books to audio books that can be mailed to the home, as well as emergency preparedness, nutrition and a host of other subjects.
There is no cost to attend. The library is located at 41-17 Main St. For more information, call (718) 990-0700 or visit queenslibrary.org.