Upon walking by or hearing the name, one might think Flushing Town Hall is number of things: a church, a government building or a space where community board meetings are held. Little would most people know that behind the brick walls and tall windows, art is being made.
“We are all about promoting a cross-cultural dialogue,” Sam Shumays, the deputy director of Flushing Town Hall said. “We want diversity in the discipline of art and diversity in where it’s coming from.”
From American tap dance to full-moon drumming to Chinese Pipa, Flushing Town Hall does not skimp on diversity.
Smack dab in the middle of Flushing on the bustling Northern Boulevard, the venue is just one of many art spaces in Queens starting to spread its wings.
“We’re in this unique time where Queens is really starting to grow into itself,” Shumays said. “The borough is paying attention to itself as opposed to what is going on in Manhattan for the first time and I think that Flushing Town Hall is one of a number of groups forming that identity.”
While spaces like MoMA at PS 1, the Museum of the Moving Image or the Queens Museum — which is also in the midst of its own face lift — focus on modern art, Flushing Town Hall dedicates a majority of the workshops, classes and performances to immigrant culture.
“We can’t ignore that we’re in Flushing which has a massive Asian population,” Shumays said. “There are so many immigrant art forms that are being brought here and are being kept alive here in Queens. So many of our events will center around Asian culture but not everything. We want to reach out to as many cultures as possible.
In addition to showcasing the talent of immigrant artists, Flushing Town Hall does a lot of experimentation with music and dance.
“We had a full-moon drumming event where we invited Colombian and Korean drummers,” Shumays said. “First we had one group perform and then the other but then we invited both groups to just jam out together. Even the musicians were a little skeptical at first but once they got into it, it was really something.”
Flushing Town Hall also has an extensive education program that involves teaching artists traveling throughout the city to encourage children to explore the arts beyond what they see on television or on the silver screen.
“We also realize that we don’t visit every school and there may be kids or parents out there that want to experience our programs. So we also offer programs and performances on the weekends for those families to come nand see.
One huge difference between typical children’s shows or workshops and those that are offered at Flushing Town Hall is sophistication.
“We don’t dumb things down for the kids,” Shumays said. “We give them high-quality shows that even the parents enjoy.”
Flushing Town Hall also hosts weddings and private galas in the upstairs theater which is currently being re-floored.
But if Flushing Town Hall specializes in one thing, it’s jazz.
“Queens has been home to all the big jazz musicians,” said Betsy Enright, the director of external affairs and unofficial historian of the building. “Most people think it’s just Louis Armstrong but it was also Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and so many others.”
The venue makes sure to have a series of jazz music performances offered throughout the year to honor Queens’ musical roots.
In the wooden-floor lobby, photos and memorabilia from Louis Armstrong line the walls and the gift shop offers a Queens jazz trail map so music fans can travel around the borough and learn some of its history.
“We’re not just a place for artists,” Shumays said. “I think that’s what makes us different. You don’t have to be an artist to call this place home.”
When: Monday to Friday, noon to 5 p.m. and two hours before events
Where: 137-35 Northern Blvd.