A Conversation Between Omar Lopez-Chahound & Janet Barkan of the Jamaica Center Improvement Association

August 4, 2004 at 90-50 Parsons Blvd., Jamaica, New York


Omar Lopez-Chahoud (OLC): As you know, Jamaica Flux is an exhibition that will take place at different sites throughout Jamaica Avenue, many of which are commercial spaces. What kind of impact do you think a project like this could have on the community?

Janet Barkan (JB): It fosters interchange between Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning (JCAL) and business owners. Indeed, one of the lessons we learned is that a successful project demands that discussions between JCAL and business owners are frequent and begun well in advance. Rents here are extremely high, and it takes some persuading that artworks will bring attention to businesses. Even though some of the storeowners might think Jamaica Flux is a terrific idea, they might not want to give up their “selling space.”

OLC: But you think that Jamaica Flux will in the end be good for business in the area?

JB: I don’t think that it will promote business right away, but it will definitely promote the downtown area, which in the long run will be beneficial to commerce. Equally significant is that people will encounter art as part of their everyday shopping experience.

OLC: It sounds like you think the community will be open to Jamaica Flux.

JB: In general, yes. Because we are a multi-ethnic, diverse community, great care has to be taken that nothing is done that is considered propaganda or political in a way that might offend a particular segment of the population. To this end, artists should be aware of and address the different cultures that are part of the community. Also, I think that it is imperative that a written explanation accompany each project.

OLC: Do you think that the exhibition will bring benefits to JCAL?

JB: Yes, I think that due to the architecture of JCAL’s building, which is a city-owned landmarked cultural institution, people sometimes feel too intimidated to enter. Perhaps something can be done with the outside of the building such as displaying large banners or even planting flowers and greenery to make it more attractive for the public. Having an exhibit in public spaces, rather than just within JCAL, will reach a larger percentage of the population. I believe that Jamaica Flux should be in a format that facilitates a dialogue between the artists and the community.

OLC: Jamaica Flux is conceived as a multi-year project that will occur annually. Would you like to see it repeated again?

JB: Absolutely. It has great potential. I think that an exhibition like this will bring an awareness of JCAL and a cultural profile of the Jamaica community. I hope that each year JCAL will document the projects in the commercial spaces and present copies to the storeowners to serve as a testimony of their involvement in Jamaica Flux. Just as artworks can sometimes present issues that prompt critical thinking, the collaborative process of Jamaica Flux—between artists, JCAL, and storeowners—can be a positive educational experience for all the participants in and of itself.

Omar Lopez-Chahoud

Curator, Jamaica Flux 2004