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Letting the Neighbors Know

Letting the Neighbors Know
Francesca LaMaccia and Jessica Burns of MAD About Dance at the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center.

Named after Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who united and inspired generations of immigrants, the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center is a major program of LaGuardia Community College, one of the City's institutions that thrives because of immigrants. Its western Queens community includes immigrants, and first- and second- generation Americans from 159 countries who speak 119 languages. When it started, the Center's focus was on introducing elementary and middle school children to the performing arts. The Center had little connection to the students and faculty of the College, and, according to its managing director, Steven Hitt, "People living within 10 blocks of the College did not know about the campus." But Hitt and his colleagues have redefined their mission. "We're a bridge between the College and the community. While developers boast of Long Island City's proximity to Midtown Manhattan, many residents find Manhattan's cultural offerings out of reach. The Center brings people together through the shared experience of the arts, and presents culturally and ethnically diverse programs of the highest quality at affordable prices."

In the first year of this 2007 $60,000 grant, LaGuardia Arts Center was able to increase the size of its audience by 20 percent for its offerings which have included an Argentine dance company; the Immigrant Theater Project's films and plays, such as Nickled and Dimed and Queensbridge, which advocate for social change; sitar virtuoso Anoushka Shankar and Queens artists like Michiyo Tanaka, a Japanese immigrant, and her company, MAD About Dance. And the Center is still running a school-time series for kids.

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