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Take the 7 train

Music, dance, painting, sculpture, color, culture, life: Artists and art enthusiasts from the culturally unique communities along Queens’ famed No. 7 train are preparing this week to showcase their talents at the second annual Queens Art Express, which takes place June 9-13.

At least 38 art venues and 80 local merchants will participate next month, putting the vivacious spirit and artistic creativity of the nation’s most culturally diverse borough on full display. This annual event was started last year by the Queens Council on the Arts to shine a spotlight on Queens’ overlooked, yet constantly growing art community, according to David Bromley, communications coordinator for the council.

“For me it’s about authenticity,” Bromley said. “Queens is on its way to being branded. Brooklyn has been branded. Manhattan has been branded. But Queens is well on its way... When you live in a community with a plethora of cultures, your art is going to be affected by that community, in my opinion.”

The Art Express, however, is not only about art. It’s also about helping borough artists develop the business acumen to support their passion, which Bromley said is part of the mission of the Queens Council of the Arts.

“We also want to give [artists] the tools so they can do their own marketing, where they can do work on their own independent of the group,” he said. “This year we introduced the Artful Business component in an effort to stimulate the economy.”

Bromley said Artful Business is a program partnership with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that allows any festival-goer visiting a restaurant or business involved in the Art Express between May 15 and July 15 to get a deal by showing his or her MetroCard at the selected location.

“From a marketing perspective it makes it attractive to people who make a day of the festival. But it’s not mutually exclusive, where we’re trying to get people from Manhattan and other places. We hope to attract people from all over the city,” he said.

The life of Queens artists, such as photographer Carolina Penafiel, 31, can be rewarding but challenging, as many like her work odd jobs during the day to support their passion.

“I freelance, I do production, I work for chefs. I do a lot of things that are not all related,” said Penafiel. “For you to be an artist and support your passion you have to have another job. It’s very difficult. There’s a lot of competition here in New York.”

The road may be arduous and the pay often unsatisfying, but the spiritual rewards of artistic expression are edifying enough for many artists who flock to Queens.

“They’re looking for space that they can afford, where they can live and they can work,” Bromley said. “Long Island City is the No. 1 place in Queens for space. The other communities are developing it, but they have primarily residential space.”

Originally from Chile, Penafiel runs Local Project, a nonprofit art space and organization in Long Island City, which is participating in the Art Express. She founded the group in 2003 with her friend and partner Renzo Ortega, originally from Peru, as a way for themselves and their artist friends to show their work.

“We realized there were a lot of other people that had a need to show, not just my friends,” she said. “Now we’re much more established. If somebody wants to do an exhibition, we take a curation and we do it. We don’t curate artists. They come us.”

This year’s event features outdoor art shows, dance premieres, movie screenings, and open art studios lining the storefront community along the No. 7 subway from Flushing to Long Island City. Many new artists and art groups are participating as well.

The Unity Stage Company, a new Sunnyside-based theater group, is participating for the first time, performing “Six Cylinder Love,” a family comedy about people who buy a car they can’t afford, at the ANOROC Democratic meeting hall in Sunnyside.

“We’re looking for an increased audience base, more people from other parts of Queens and even more people in our immediate vicinity, the Long Island City area, Maspeth, more people knowing about us,” said Sofia Geier, founder and producing artistic director of the group. “When they come to see us, they’re going to see something enjoyable and that they can relate to.”

Geier said the Art Express is helping all New Yorkers, but particularly those in Queens, appreciate the artist community not just in Manhattan, but in their own backyards as well.

“People will get on the No. 7 train and say, ‘You know, I can get on the train right here, and less than 20 minutes away there’s great food and entertainment right here in the community,’” she said. “The 7 line, if you think about it, is known for one thing, which is food, and now we’re adding arts to the menu ... I think that’s what’s going to be the greatest benefit to artists.”

Reach reporter Chauncey Alcorn by e-mail at calcorn@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

If You Go

Queens Art Express

When: June 9-13

Where: Various locations along the No. 7 subway line from Long Island City to Flushing

For More: Get the full schedule at queensartexpress.com

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