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Queens Chronicle

Earth calling the arts community

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Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013 10:30 am

We were excited to see that Maspeth High School will be putting on a student performance of “Romeo and Juliet” next week, and hope that more than just the MHS community turns out for the show.

It should be a good one — director Eric Young, the school’s theater teacher and an experienced actor, managed to snag a professional combat choreographer for the fight scenes and has set the goal of giving the audience “a professional show.”

But beyond that, we’re just glad to see that someone’s still putting on the classics. We find that too often, members of the Queens arts community, both performance and static, are doing work that’s so avant garde many residents cannot relate to or even understand it. And we think there’s a high price to pay for the disconnect.

Our reviewers are seeing some plays that essentially have no plots — purposely — and seem designed to be difficult or impossible to follow. Public art projects reminiscent of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “The Gates,” which managed to bring the feeling of scaffolding to Central Park, are getting more common. And let’s not even go into the woman whose show a few years ago in Western Queens included urinating into a vessel on stage and then pouring it over the audience.

We understand art has few boundaries and that people want to do what hasn’t been done before. Just like aging rockers whose fans want to hear their biggest hits, when they’d rather play their latest.

But there must be some balance, and we wish more professional and community theater groups in Queens would do shows like “Romeo and Juliet” more often. That play has lasted 500 years for good reason: it encapsulates virtually the whole of human experience. How many recent works could rightfully make that claim?

Before you, the avant garde artist producing The Latest Thing in some studio in Western Queens, scoffs at all this, think of the practical element. The arts community largely depends on government support. There’s a movement afoot, called One Percent for Culture, that seeks to have the city quadruple its funding for the arts, to 1 percent of the regular budget. Public spending is driven, to a sizeable degree, by what the public supports. If you want the average Joe in largely blue-collar, gruff, working-class Queens to support spending more taxpayer dollars on the arts, you should cater to him more than you are now.

One who understands what we’re saying is none other than Tom Finkelpearl, executive director of the Queens Museum of Art, who is always careful to offer both the traditional and conceptual to visitors.

“I do think it’s important to give something to people that’s clear and beautiful that they can understand,” Finkelpearl said Wednesday. “One of my criticisms of the art world is that it’s elitist and really doesn’t listen to the public.” Don’t believe us? Believe Tom.

Welcome to the discussion.