At Flushing Town Hall, we use the tagline: “Global Arts for a Global Community” to indicate our mission to serve the diverse communities of New York City, and Queens especially, with artistic and cultural presentations that educate, engage, and foster mutual appreciation.
We are thrilled to be seated in the most diverse county in the United States where 138 different languages are spoken and 49% of the population is foreign-born. As an institution we seek to celebrate of the diversity of the artistic expressions of our borough. As a folklorist and educator, I curate school programs where students can see themselves reflected on stage with artists from Louisiana to India, New York to China, Colombia to West Africa.
These are our institution’s goals; but at the recent National Guild Annual Conference for Community Arts Education in Chicago my colleagues and I discussed what it means to deliver these arts and cultural services. At multiple addresses and workshops, a call to action was issued to use the arts to build critical thinking, social responsibility, optimism, integrity, and problem solving skills. These concepts are lofty, but without inclusion and access to the arts, students cannot build the skills they need in the 21st Century.
It may not be news that many of our young Queens’ residents are living at or below the poverty level. Over the last five years, 75% to 78% of Queens’ students have qualified for free or reduced priced lunch. The poverty issue is so profound that in the 2014-2015 school year, all middle school students were made eligible for free lunch. All of our lofty ideas and diverse arts programming will be meaningless if young people do not have access to the arts.
To respond to the call, Flushing Town Hall will be piloting a new program for all teens. Beginning in January 2017, ALL public concerts and workshops will be FREE for teens, age 13 to 19 years old. Students will simply need to show their school I.D. at our Box Office. Our other discounted programs will also continue. College students with I.D. will continue to pay just $10 for most programs, and pay nothing for our Jazz Jams. Parents will pay $6 to $10 for children 12 and under.
FTH anticipates that parents with teen-aged children will now encourage them to explore the arts without any financial concerns. Ideally teens will come to FTH independently and develop their own opinions and advocate for their preferences so that our organization can continue to inspire students of all ages.
It is our hope that by removing the financial hurdle, Queens’ students will develop into socially and emotionally intelligent adults and advocate for our local diverse community and its arts.