1999-10-02 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio


Rockaway Artists Alliance

by Susan Hartenstein

Lawrence McBride will hold an origami workshop for children grades two to six, on October 4 at 3:30 p.m. at the Arverne branch of the Queens Borough Public Library, 312 Beach 54 street. Preregistration is required, space is limited, admission is free.

Writing this column is a great joy. There are some weeks, however, that I am frightened by the task-frightened even to begin. There are some events and issues which are so important and profound that I feel I may not do them justice. But then I realize that all I need do is record the events honestly and directly, and the column will write itself. Poetry rests in the subject, not the pen. Two events last week reminded me of what RAA is all about and, therefore, of why it is so essential to this community and to the community at large.

From all over the city they came. Graphic artists, musicians, illustrators, designers, directors. Artists of diverse disciplines and cultures came to the first arts education instructors meeting of the year. Fascinating new faces we hadn’t seen before, bringing a fresh excitement to our education program. The tone was set for the evening by Program Director, Chris Jorge, whose usual high level of knowledge and enthusiasm infused the group with a sense of anticipation and camaraderie. She celebrated the diversity and talent in front of her. This would broaden the ability of the RAA program to fulfill its goal of bringing the best in arts and education to the children of our community and our city.

Last Saturday, political and civic leaders, parents, children, teachers, students, neighbors, friends and new acquaintances all gathered in communion under the warming sun to celebrate an accomplishment in which each could share credit. A neighborhood came together in a profound spirit of community pride and hope for the future. All this was sparked by the creation of a work of art. The event was the ribbon cutting ceremony for Esther Grillo’s mural, "Surf’s Up." So many made this mural possible. Ricardo Murphy, Parks Department chief of operations in Queens, lent his support. Both he and Estelle Cooper, who was representing Commissioner Stern, spoke with eloquence of how the mural enhanced the waterfront. A City Parks Foundation grant funded the project. Assemblymember Audrey Pheffer, a strong supporter of RAA and the value of arts in the community, lauded Grillo and the RAA for creating this very public expression of the unique beauty of Rockaway. She commented that when RAA "goes city-wide" it will help spread the positive word about Rockaway.

Barbara Buffolino is president of Surfside Housing Association for Tenants. She helped organize the grant. She and Pheffer both spoke of the mural as a symbol of the burgeoning neighborhood, site of so many new homes, and of the hopes for its future.

Perhaps the brightest aspect of this project is the student apprenticeship program Grillo and the RAA ran in Beach Channel High School for the mural. Younger neighborhood children also joined in the artwork. This mural is as much theirs as anyone else’s. The obvious joy, pride and creativity fostered in this diverse group of young people are invaluable. Many of these children and their proud parents attended the ceremony. Chris Jorge spoke as RAA’s arts education program director. Her considerable heart and intelligence work overtime to improve the lives and education of the children of Rockaway. She spoke passionately of how the goal of the program is to improve the skills and talents of our children so they can compete in a changing world. She emphasized how important it is to support programs that accomplish this.

And then there is Esther Grillo-unique, talented, intelligent and dynamic. It was her vision, creativity and tireless work that turned a sixty-year-old structure into a bright, action-packed, fun-filled tribute to the beauty of Rockaway, its people and the surfers who flock to its waves. The individuals and groups she thanked are too numerous to name here. I should, however, mention Principal Gassaway, for his support of the apprenticeship program at Beach Channel High School, and the constant encouragement of the residents and visitors who passed by the work as it progressed.

Allow me to end this column with an image. Thomas Intrabartola worked for the Parks Department in Rockaway. He was an avid surfer who deeply loved this community and its waves. He was deeply loved by those who knew him. He died last year. In tribute, one of the mural’s surfers is dedicated to him. At the end of the ceremony, one of his sisters took a photograph of his other sister, his wife and little boy in front of the surfer who carries Thomas’ name. Attempting to get the very young child to look at the camera, the sister taking the shot called to him, "Thomas, look. Look, Thomas." I can’t seem to get that image of family and continuity out of my mind.

It is precisely the act of artistic creation which has the power to reach into the souls of both creator and audience to stir what is best, most passionate and most human in all of us.

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