This Emerging Curator Is Bringing Art and Culture to Flushing

By Clare Baierl |

Outside of the opening of the Flushing Green Market, Xinya Li was making the rounds approaching everyone she could to announce her newest art exhibit opening this month. 

She has soft brown eyes, jet-black hair and a warm smile. As Curator and Artistic Director for the Flushing Chamber of Commerce, Li is using her unique worldly perspective to highlight artists throughout Queens. 

Born and raised in China, at the mere age of sixteen, Li moved across the world to Connecticut to complete her high school education. 

All by herself, with her family and friends still in China, Li finished off her education in the US with a degree in Design from the School of Visual Arts in New York. 

“I used to go to the city every weekend,” Li explained. “I knew that if I wanted to pursue my art career, I needed to move.” 

So she set her sights high, grabbing her first job out of school working under John Choe in the Commission on Human Rights. Li worked on Choe’s campaign team, helping to shape his brand personality, a position that would eventually lead her to her current job. 

With a goal of artistic curation, Li moved on to work for The Flushing Chamber of Commerce. Within this position and the unique skills she brought to it, Li found her passion. 

“I’m always having random, creative ideas,” Li said with a laugh. “I’m very energetic.” 

Working as an artistic curator, Li travels throughout Flushing to find and work with emerging artists. Each month, Li works to create original art exhibitions throughout the brough. Often bringing together different cultural perspectives and unique ideas such as her newest project, Museum Without Doors

This exhibit, opening on July 19th at Bowne Park in Flushing, will bring together the work of two artists, Chia Hsuan Kuo and Pin Hsin Chu. The exhibition will be free and open to the public. The concept will be a departure from the traditional gallery experience, as it will be held outside in the park. The goal being, “to bridge the gap between the general public and art,” said Li. 

“I get my inspiration from literally anything,” Li explains. “Everything can be your inspiration, even a coffee shop could be the inspiration for my next exhibit.”


Students Beautify Benches With Social Justice Messages

Students of PS31Q The Bayside School celebrate the installation of their social action bench mural at Cunningham Park. Photo Credit: CEI

By Iryna 

Students from 11 public schools in Queens painted benches in Cunningham Park with underlying social justice themed messages through a nonprofit seeking to innovate the city’s public school system.

The Benchmarks program, part of the Center for Educational Innovation (CEI), engages students in social activism through the creation of public art. Some of the social issues that the students chose to focus on are racism, bullying, mental health awareness and respect for nature. 

On May 31, over a hundred students unveiled and celebrated their creations, which will be on display in the park through August. They also gave speeches surrounding the social impact that they hope their work will bring. 

A bench painted by students of I.S. 025 Adrien Block is installed at Cunningham Park as part of the CEI Benchmarks program. Photo Credit: CEI

“We hope that the bench encourages people to sit down and start talking to others while showing love and respect,” said Amaya Quayyum, an 11-year-old 5th grader from P.S. 191Q Mayflower School. “We are all the same across the nation and the potential for greatness is inside every one of us. Everyone can learn to respect, and respect is one of the greatest expressions of love and kindness.”

Tracy Dizon, a teaching artist at CEI, worked with students at four different schools to help them conceptualize and implement their ideas into mural style creations. With an art background in fashion design, she says that for both her and the students, mural making was a first time endeavor.  

Teaching artist Tracy Dizon poses with the bench she helped students of PS31Q The Bayside School to advocate for care for nature. Photo Credit: CEI

“Every class had a different charm to them,” said Dizon who witnessed the students in different schools gravitate to a social issue that they felt connected to. 

Dizon says that the students at P.S. 31Q in Bayside were largely inspired by nature due to their proximity to various parks and the spring season. The fourth graders that she worked with twice a week since February chose “Love Nature” as the theme of their bench with polka dot elements. 

Dizon worked with her students to create a preliminary design for the benches. Photo Credit: Tracy Dizon

The students were inspired by Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese contemporary artist who is best known for her heavy use of polka dots in sculptures and art installations. Dizon says that Kusama was one of the many artists that she introduced the students to in the planning stages of the project. 

“As the next generation we have to be stewards of nature,” said 10-year-old 4th grader Chloe Moy during the celebration. “The dots represent that we’re not alone in this world. We have to take care of each other and especially nature.”

For children, and even adults, thoughts on complex social issues can be difficult to express in words. The creation of art allows the space to process, learn and express inner feelings. 

“In this current climate, young people need a public platform to express themselves on current social issues in a constructive, creative, and powerful way, so they can join the conversation and make a difference in our world,” said Alexdra Leff, the executive director of arts education at CEI and creator of the Benchmarks program. 

“Their messages for social change on a wide array of critical issues will inspire hundreds of thousands of people this summer.”

Arts Gowanus hosts 26th annual Gowanus Open Studios

By Stephanie Meditz

Natale Adgnot’s unique sculptures protrude from her studio walls.

This weekend, Gowanus artists will open their studio doors to the public, art connoisseurs and curious minds alike.

Arts Gowanus will host its 26th annual Gowanus Open Studios on Oct. 15 and 16 from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., where artists in the community will allow their neighbors to see them in their creative element.

The first GOS took place 27 years ago when a small group of artists opened their workspaces to the public.

Johnny Thornton, Councilwoman Shahana Hanif and MarktheArtisan attended GOS in 2021.

This year, more than 350 artists in 100 locations will participate in the event.

“It started out very small and over the years it has just become, I think, Brooklyn’s biggest art celebration,” Johnny Thornton, executive director of Arts Gowanus, said. “It grows a little bit each year. More artists and more people hear about Gowanus and hear about all the amazing creative stuff that’s happening here.”

Fortunately for Brooklyn’s many bikers and pedestrians, GOS is navigable for people traveling on foot.

There are multiple studios that are walking distance from several subway stations, and some artists even have studios in the same building.

As a result of the event’s increased popularity over the years, artists look forward to participating every year and sharing their work.

“This drives itself a little bit,” Thornton said. “This is the best time of year for artists to make sales, to meet curators. A lot of art insiders come here to scope out new artists in the neighborhood. So this is really something that artists are excited about year-round…It can’t come soon enough.”

Gowanus Open Studios includes designated studio spaces for artists who have been displaced from the neighborhood.

“Rents have been going up in the neighborhood for a while. We’ve lost a couple of large studio buildings over the last decade. And so we make our best efforts to be able to include artists who either can’t afford a studio in the neighborhood or have lost their studio,” Thornton said.

These artists will have the opportunity to exhibit their work at 82 St. Marks Place, the Gowanus Dredgers Boathouse and 540 President St., the Arts Gowanus office.

Gowanus Open Studios reflects the neighborhood’s diverse range of artists, including jewelry makers, painters, printers, muralists, photographers, video artists and sculptors.

Natale Adgnot, a wall sculptor in the community, attended her first GOS in 2014.

Her work consists of acrylic and thermoplastic mounted on birch panels in a three dimensional effect.

She is currently working on a series entitled “Bird Brains” in which each piece represents a bird referenced in common English idioms.

Natale Adgnot poses with one of her favorite pieces from her Bird Brains series, “Appeal to Vanity (Peacock Square)” (2022).

Each idiom is then connected to a cognitive bias or logical fallacy.

“There are so many expressions in the English language that sort of borrow a bird, and the bird stands in as a metaphor for some irrational behavior or belief that humans hold,” Adgnot said. “We humans are kind of bird brains for believing these things.”

Adgnot will showcase parts of Bird Brains at GOS this weekend at TI Art Studio #5 on the third floor at 183 Lorraine St.

“[Gowanus] is just the best place to be an artist. I lived in Japan for three years and, honestly, 75 percent of the reason we came back to New York was because I missed my art community in Gowanus,” she said. “I’m really lucky to have a studio in this neighborhood.”

In 2023, Adgnot will reveal a new installation of her work that takes her sculptures off the birch panels and mounts them directly onto walls or floors.

Adgnot’s “The Duck Test” (2022) is made from acrylic, enamel on
thermoplastic and panel.

Thornton himself is a photorealist painter, and he participates in local community projects.

On Monday, he and Arts Gowanus programming director Emily Chiavelli installed a community photo mural across the street from the Gowanus Dredgers Boathouse.

The mural features most of the artists who live and work in Gowanus, including Adgnot.

Thornton and Chiavelli will also showcase a painting and photo series in the Arts Gowanus office.

One of the goals of GOS is to make art more accessible for all, meaning that people do not need to know anything about art to attend.

“[Gowanus Open Studios] kind of takes the gallery out of it. You can see a lot of art in one day and it makes it completely accessible for the public and anyone who wants to see what’s happening in the neighborhood,” Thornton said.

Adgnot especially enjoys when children visit her studios — she lets them choose a postcard of her work to take home.

Thornton became executive director of Arts Gowanus in 2020, in the midst of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the neighborhood rezoning.

During these hard times, Arts Gowanus was dedicated to advocacy for local artists — it negotiated 30,000 square feet of affordable artists’ space inside the new developments in Gowanus.

“We want to keep this neighborhood the vibrant creative community that it’s always been. Art requires accessibility and diversity. It requires an organization looking out for the artists’ best interests in the neighborhood,” Thornton said.

All year long, Arts Gowanus helps artists secure workspaces, pair with businesses, find work opportunities and navigate the administrative aspects of being an artist.

To conclude and celebrate GOS 2022, there will be a party at the Gowanus Dredgers Boathouse at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 16.

“It’s really just a celebration of the entire creative community in Gowanus, which is so strong and vibrant,”  Thornton said.

For more information, visit

First ‘Art Walk’ comes to Metro

A little rain did not stop the Forest Hills and surrounding communities from coming out to support local artists over the weekend.

Metro Village Forest Hills, a small business alliance founded by Rachel Kellner of Aigner Chocolates, and Eileen Arabian of DEE’S Wood Fired Pizza + Kitchen, put together the first-ever Metropolitan Avenue of Art event.

AnnaMarie Prono showed her “100 Days of Birds” art series.

At the event, members of the community could go on a free, self-guided tour down Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills, and visit the 11 businesses who housed different artists’ work.

Joana Chu, a real estate salesperson at Home Court Real Estate, helped coordinate the event with Kellner and Arabian, along with Teri Basile of Art World Custom Framing.

“We kind of brainstorm different ideas and ways to drive traffic to the avenue, and that is how this event became an offshoot of one of our meetings,” Chu said. “So the four of us were interested in really hunkering down and actually putting the event together.”

Chu added that Metro Village’s main goals for the event were to familiarize the community with local businesses, as well as provide an outlet for artists.

“I think it’s really difficult for local artists to have venues and free opportunities to show their art and to sell their art,” she said. “So we thought this would be a nice way to support them, and to kind of connect with the community and have them become aware of both the artists and the businesses.”

Alan Cory Kaufman, a Forest Hills resident, displayed his artwork inside Aigner Chocolates.

His work consisted of acrylic paintings of various animals, primarily fish, that were executed in a playful, almost childlike manner.

Kaufman said that he started painting to keep himself busy while rehabilitating himself after he had undergone brain surgeries and spent a lot of time at home.

Alan Cory Kaufman displayed his artwork at Aigner Chocolates.

“I’m not really a trained artist, but acrylic paints are fun. They’re easy, and they’re simple to get,” Kaufman said. “I spent a couple of hours each day painting and they accumulated, and my wife Susan led me up to participate in this event when we ran out of space on our wall.”

Axel Checa, an architect with the Department of Buildings whose work was displayed at Dylan’s Restaurant, also does art for therapeutic reasons.

Checa, who is Native American and identifies as two-spirit, said that her artwork is a way for her to express and discover herself during the darkest of times.

“This piece is from five years ago, when I was in college, and just starting art. I made it to be secure and to comfort me, because at that time, I had no idea I was trans,” Checa said in reference to a self portrait.

“It’s funny because there’s two people in the portrait: the hood version of me and the spiritual version of me,” she continued. “It’s kind of a dark piece. I used it to get through some feelings of discomfort and not knowing who I am or what I’m doing.”

Other artists, like Debra Mintz, use art as a way to relocate their inner child.

Mintz is a graduate of Yale School of Art, and a retired teacher from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, where she taught for over 20 years.

“These are abstract, and I quote my father when it comes to these. He said if you are yourself then you will always be original,” she said. “Even though I’m highly educated,

I’ve always tried to think deep down inside and find out who I am and relocate the child in me. And that’s how I found all these shapes.”

Mintz uses any art material known to man to create her works, and the drawings she displayed featured various abstract shapes and bright, eye-catching colors.

Many community members came out to support the artists, including Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and Councilman James Gennaro. A lot of the featured artists said they made quite a few sales during the art walk.

“There’s just a sense of a small town when you walk down Metropolitan Avenue. It has a different feel, and we really want to foster that,” Chu said.

“The fact that the small business owners are getting to know each other, and we’re all neighbors, many of them live above their businesses and many of them have been there for 20 years,” she continued. “So I think it’s really important to kind of make sure that we stay connected, and we support each other and each other’s businesses, so we can all thrive.”

Forest Hills resident celebrates 30 years living with MS

When AnnaMarie Prono was 27, she woke up one morning feeling like her left hand had fallen asleep.

She brushed it off and went on a week-long cruise in the Caribbean, only to experience more sensations of numbness and pins and needles throughout other parts of her body.

A spinal tap confirmed that Prono had multiple sclerosis, a disease in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of nerves.

“I saw a general neurologist who specialized in epilepsy at the time, and he told me, ‘Yes, you have multiple sclerosis. You should get a cane and stay out of the heat,’” Prono said.

“He just sent me on my way,” she continued. “I was like, ‘How can this be?’”

When she was first diagnosed, Prono felt discouraged when her doctor told her that there’s no cure for MS, and because it’s so rare, pharmaceutical companies did not want to spend substantial funds to research the disease.

She was prescribed steroids to calm the flare ups, and informed that the FDA would approve three new injectable treatments to slow the progression of MS.

“I was very shy of starting any of that because this was all new, and I didn’t know the long term effects and what it would do to me,” she said.
“I wondered when I would get another flare up. When will I have all my feeling back in my hand, and when are my eyes going to be normal again so I can drive? I was told to wait and see,” she continued.

Two years after her first episode, Prono experienced another where she was completely numb from the waist down, her pupils jumped up and down and she had vertigo.

This instance prompted her to try different treatments to help prevent intense episodes from recurring.

However, when she got tired, her symptoms would flare up, which was a common occurrence from her high stress job as an architect and construction manager.

“I remember I was working on a project where we looked at a statue. Normally, I would just jump or climb up anything to look, and for the first time I said I was afraid to do it because I didn’t trust that I wasn’t going to fall,” Prono said.

“My new neurologist at NYU told me I have secondary progressive MS, which was devastating,” she continued. “I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t work anymore, and I thought my life was over.”

Prono has participated in various studies with NYU, which included transcranial direct stimulation—a service that is not yet FDA approved—but has shown great success for her.

This year, Prono celebrates 30 years of living with MS, and with that, 30 years of leading the AMTeam in WalkMS.

Upon signing up for her first walk, Prono said it is something she will continue to do as long as she is able to walk.

“I think I’ve raised $240,000 over the last 30 years with my team. Friends and family have been amazingly supportive,” she said. “Because this is the 30th year, and I never thought that I’d get to 30 years, I decided I needed to do something special to raise money and awareness.”

On the weekend of Palm Sunday, Prono held an art showing at Our Lady of Mercy in Forest Hills, where she displayed her original artworks and sold prints to raise money for National MSSociety.

Over the course of the pandemic, she worked on a personal art series called “100 Days of Birds.” From hummingbirds to peacocks, she used colored pencils to explore drawing a different bird each day.

After reaching 100, she went on to draw insects and other animals, as well as numerous religious figures.

“I would tell people that during the pandemic, the one hour I spent drawing was probably the best hour of my day,” Prono said.

“This year, I took part in an art therapy study with the University of Florida, and I’m currently enrolled in an art therapy program with NYU Langone,” she continued. “That has been very eye opening for me.”

Prono also participates in equine therapy at GallopNYC Forest Hills, and recently wrote a musical about Mother Cabrini and a little girl that had MS.

Although she’s now quite open about her journey with MS, Prono said that wasn’t always the case.

“Thirty years ago, I was afraid to tell people. I was afraid about losing my job,” she said. “Now, I talk to people about it openly, and I’ll just come out and say it.”

“Now, 30 years after my diagnosis when there were no approved treatments for MS, we have 16 different disease modifying therapies that are approved by the FDA,” she continued. “If you don’t get the answer you want, keep looking.”

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