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Astoria Gets its Own Official Arts District, The First of its Kind in Queens

Van Bramer was presented with a ringmaster costume at ceremony (source: Facebook)

March 31, 2014 By Michael Florio

A small section of Astoria—known for its cultural venues and the Kaufman Astoria Studios–was officially designated as an “arts district” on Friday.

The district, the first of its type in Queens, is comprised of the Kaufman Astoria Studios, the Museum of the Moving Image and the Queens Council on the Arts.

Officially called the Kaufman Arts District, it is bound by 31st Street to the west, 34th Ave to the north, Steinway Street to the east and 37th Ave to the south.

Several elected leaders and members of the various cultural organizations gathered Friday for a ceremony at Kaufman Astoria Studios to mark the occasion.

“This day is decades in the making,” said Van Bramer, who grew up in Astoria. “This part of Astoria is so special and unique.”

“We know what is here, but we want the rest of the world to know and by establishing this cultural district we will encourage more artists to come here,” Van Bramer said. “Investing in the arts is investing into the neighborhood.”

The district, created through the City Council, will be eligible to receive funds from the city to promote arts initiatives—much like the Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District. Van Bramer, as the chairman of the City Council Cultural Affairs Committee, was able to get the council to sign off on it.

Meanwhile, State Sen. Mike Gianaris told the attendees that 25 years ago this section of Astoria was not often talked about. The area was rundown until George Kaufman took over the abandoned studios, located at 34-12 36th Street, in 1980.

“There was not much there until George Kaufman started this transformation that led to where we are today,” Gianaris said, who also grew up in Astoria. Today, he added, “It’s the pride of the community.”

The studios were once the home of Paramount Studios in the 1920s before the company moved to California. The US army held on to them until the 1970s. George Kaufman took them over.

A number of big-name movies and television shows have been filmed at the studios in recent years, including “Men in Black III,” The Bourne Legacy” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

“We are very proud to call this community home for so many years, and are thrilled that it is being recognized this way for its unique contributions to the creative spirit,” said Hal Rosenbluth, president of Kaufman Astoria Studios.

Students from the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, located across the street from Kaufman Astoria Studios, performed a variety of songs at the ceremony.

Donna Finn, the principal of the school, thanked the members of the Kaufman Arts District, saying that the school would not be possible without them.

Carl Goodman, the executive director of Museum of the Moving Image, said the district will help promote the arts as well as Western Queens.

“Hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world and around the corner come to the Museum each year, and the creation of this arts district opens the community to more opportunities to experience the extensive creative activity in our midst.”

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