The arts center at Queens College underwent a major renovation two years ago and now the shiny new Kupferberg Center for the Arts is trying to become a cultural staple for the borough.
“I was approached by the president of the college and he said that he wanted me to create a vision statement and figure out how Queens College and the Kupferburg Center can be the best art facility in Queens,” said Jeff Rosenstock, the executive director of Kupferburg Center. “He didn’t say the best in the world or the best in the city, he wanted the best arts center for our borough.”
Last year, Rosenstock and Kupferberg Artistic Director Leon Denmark embarked on a journey they hoped would bring them closer to the vision statement by creating Kupferburg Presents, a series of performances and acts by A-list performers.
The 2012-13 season was packed with some heavy hitters including funnymen Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld and Aziz Ansari. This year, Broadway sensation Audra McDonald, who has several Tonys under her belt, will open the Kupferburg Presents series in October. Bale Folclorico da Bahia and the Boston Pops will perform this year as well.
But Rosenstock, Denmark and the rest of the Queens College team understand that it isn’t only about the big-name acts.
“Not every event we put on is a Kupferberg Presents event,” Denmark said. “We are using these big-name acts to bring attention to the smaller student and faculty shows that people may not have otherwise looked at.”
“We want to have the audience thinking, ‘What else do you have here?’” Rosenstock said. “If we draw 1,800 or 1,900 people at Audra McDonald’s show and then we have a concert performance of ‘South Pacific,’ we can go back to the database of the people who came to see Audra and reach out to them. Some people may say ‘I’m only here for Audra’ and that’s OK, but there are other people who may think, ‘You know, the parking was pretty good, it was convenient, they were nice to me, it’s a warm and friendly atmosphere, it’s Saturday night, let’s go check it out.’ But what’s going to get them here first is Audra.”
In college towns, there is often a bubble separating students from the neighborhood. Friday and Saturday nights may be spent downtown at a nearby bar but there is still a disconnect between the town and gown communities.
But at a school like Queens College, the disconnect is near impossible to maintain as it is sandwiched between apartment buildings, the Long Island Expressway and a high school. Rosenstock and Denmark said they are committed to keeping the college and community integrated through the arts.
“We want to have major artists on the college campus and that’s the uniqueness of Queens real estate because the big Colden Theater is not in downtown Flushing, it’s right here on campus, so we intend to take advantage of that situation by having A-list performers that the students enjoy too,” Denmark said. “We want to integrate it so that students feel like they are part of a major arts institution too.”