Just minutes before being introduced by Mayor de Blasio as the new Department of Cultural Affairs commissioner on Monday, the now-former Queens Museum president and executive director Tom Finkelpearl toured the city’s first family around the museum’s famous Panorama exhibit.
According to de Blasio, listening to Finkelpearl point out different neighborhoods on the vast floor map of New York City with an excited look on his face reinforced why the former museum head is the right man for the job.
“The Panorama has fascinated people for generations. It’s one of the great exhibits here, one of the things that makes this museum special,” de Blasio said before he introduced Finkelpearl. “But in recent years, this museum became so much more. It became more central to the life of Queens. ... And that’s all because there was a visionary leader.”
At a press conference attended by dozens of museum employees and elected officials in the lobby of the Queens Museum in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the mayor called the hiring of Finkelpearl “A joyous day for the borough of Queens,” and admitted his admiration for his dedication to serving Queens.
“Tom brings with him a deep and abiding appreciation for this borough,” de Blasio said. “Wherever he goes, he innovates, he creates and he does things that weren’t supposed to be possible. And that’s exactly what we need for our new commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs.”
Finkelpearl appeared to get slightly emotional during a rousing standing ovation from the crowd after de Blasio’s remarks, and he expressed his excitement to work with the mayor and the city’s countless cultural institutions in the coming weeks.
“The [Department of Cultural Affairs] should be about inclusion, openness and opportunity,” Finkelpearl said. “What happens on the community level with artists in all the neighborhoods of New York City; there’s something extremely valuable and moving that’s good for communities. And I intend to try to understand how we can best express that value.”
Finkelpearl, an artist himself, specializing in sculpting, was the president and executive director of the Queens Museum from 2002 until this year. He will be in charge of the Department of Cultural Affairs’ $156 million budget.
Despite mainly residing in Lower Manhattan, Finkelpearl owns a summer home in the Rockaways and emphatically expressed his will to help strengthen cultural institutions in Queens.
“When I see [Corona Youth Music founder Alvaro Rojas] running the Corona Youth Orchestra and when you go and you watch the kids and their dedication to learning classical music ... it’s transformative,” he said. “And that’s as important as anything that happens on Fifth Avenue.”
Neither Finkelpearl nor de Blasio would comment on what cultural institutions or sites the department would immediately focus on in Queens or the city as a whole.