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Phillip Willis named new Jamaica arts center head

After years of helping to improve the arts and music in inner city neighborhoods, Philip Willis is bringing his vision to the streets of southeast Queens.

Willis was named the new executive director of the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning last week and the administrator said he was excited about taking the new role. Before coming to JCAL, he worked as the executive director at Harlem’s famed Opus 118 School and expanded its music classes to young learners.

“JCAL has a wonderful reputation for delivering quality instruction in the arts to the residents of Queens and the neighboring boroughs. I look forward to expanding on past successes by creating vibrant new programs and services both at the headquarters space and at our gorgeous new performing arts center — the Jamaica Performing Arts Center,” Willis said in a statement.

During his three-year tenure at Opus 118, which was featured in the 1999 Meryl Streep movie “Music of the Heart,” he helped to create the Harlem Youth Chorus after the Harlem Boy’s Choir was dissolved. Willis also created the school’s early childhood initiative, summer camp and Bedford-Stuyvesant pilot program.

This is not the first time Willis has lent a helping hand to young Queens artists. He established the Pachamama Academy in Jackson Heights that gives music lessons to Peruvian youth who live in the area.

The executive director has showcased the music and arts of dozens of cultures by creating the Global Beat of the Boroughs concert series at Symphony Space in Manhattan and the annual New York World Festival at Central Park’s Summer Stage.

In addition to his duties in the musical nonprofit world, Willis was also the executive director of the Westchester Philharmonic and general manager of the Pittsburgh market public television station WNPB.

Leilani Brown, president of the JCAL’s board, said Willis’ strong background in the arts was perfect for the southeast Queens group’s mission.

“His professional experience, passion for the arts and citywide and nationwide influence make him an excellent choice to lead JCAL into the future,” he said in a statement.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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