We are very pleased to feature the New New Yorkers Program, a collaboration between the Queens Museum of Art and Queens Library that provides educational arts-oriented classes to immigrant adult communities in Queens. We spoke with program manager José E. Rodríguez about the unique multi-lingual programs that New New Yorkers offers. Today, we’re introducing the program and throughout the summer, we’ll feature several specific classes held at Queens Library branches.
New New Yorkers classes focus on the arts, technology and English language acquisition. The free classes are taught in a variety of languages including Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, Turkish and Bengali, allowing immigrants to learn new skills and explore artistic talents and interests in a welcoming setting.
The Queens Museum started out by bringing in international artists to do lectures and programs in their native languages. The museum soon found that people attending these programs were interested in engaging more with the artists and the art, beyond the scope of one lecture or program. So, they began creating series of classes and lectures that focused on a skill or skills. Half the classes are studio classes, and about a third of the classes have an English literacy component. There are classes on photography, painting, dance, book making, video editing, and web design, among many other topics.
About half the classes are held at the Queens Library branches. José says that having classes at the libraries works really well for the program, partly because the libraries are great at community outreach. The libraries help with promotion and program planning, and create more opportunities for independent learning in between classes or when the class is over. For example, a traditional calligraphy class might be held in a branch located in a Korean neighborhood. The library has connections in the neighborhood and can host several of the classes at the branch, and then patrons attend some of the classes at the Queens Museum studio. In this way, New Yorkers that may not have heard about the program without the help of the library get to experience quality arts programming in their own language. The programs encourage patrons to engage with the library and other cultural institutions in their communities.
Many immigrants who come to the United States already have their own interests or passions for art, and having workshops in other languages provides an opportunity to pursue that art in a language that patrons are comfortable with, José says. He says that sometimes there’s a feeling that immigrants must drop all of their other interests until they learn English, and then are free to explore other topics. With the New New Yorkers Program, immigrants don’t have to put these interests on hold.
The program allows English language learners to pursue their passions in their own language, and also provides a setting to use that passion to make learning English more interesting. For example, José gave an example of students in a design software class. Patrons attended the class at the library, and the next session came back carrying English how-to manuals checked out from the library. The desire to learn Photoshop or other computer programs led patrons to books in English that they were truly interested in.
While many of the classes have patrons directly creating art (such as the photography and paper making classes pictured here), some class series like “Open English,” which was based on the idea behind open source technology, are more focused on computer literacy. In another class, students will prototype a mobile app in collaboration with NYU Interactive Technology Program graduates. The apps will be in Mandarin, English and Spanish, and will link art in the museum to library collections through QR codes. These classes often have a software, social media, or computer skills focus, but almost always relate back to art in some way.
And according to José, art is where all of this comes together. Museums are expanding their outreach efforts, while libraries’ outreach efforts are becoming more artistic. Through collaborations like the New New Yorkers Program, José says, you are changing the role of the institution and the way that people interact with the institution.
The photograph in the slideshow features a Bengali folk dance class held at Queens Library-Broadway branch. Stay tuned for our feature on a specific class in the New New Yorkers program next month!