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Queens Council on the Arts merging with Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens

The brain trust behind the merger (l to r) Walter Sanchez, Frank Raffaele and Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens CEO Costa Constantinides. Photo courtesy of Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens

Mar. 27, 2024 By Bill Parry

Queens Council on the Arts, the Long Island City-based nonprofit dedicated to fostering and developing the arts across the borough, is in the process of merging with Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens in Astoria, the largest youth development organization in western Queens.

The merger will provide QCA with the resources and support necessary to continue its mission under a shared CEO model along with staffing, financial and organizational support. QCA, which was founded in 1966, has traditionally provided funding, professional development and resources for Queens’ artists.

“We are so excited to merge QCA into the Variety family providing long-term support for young artists throughout Queens,” VBGCQ CEO Costa Constantinides said. “Every young person who has dreams of becoming an artist deserves the resources and support they need to make those dreams a reality. QCA has been a leader in the art world for almost sixty years and we here at VBGCQ look forward to ensuring it continues to be here for the next 100.”

He added that a search for a new executive director is underway under the leadership of Frank Raffaele, the new president of QCA’s board of trustees, who said rumors of the organization closing down during the COVID pandemic were greatly exaggerated.

“We never shut down, we’ve just been running a much more streamlined program in the post-COVID world the same as other smaller-budget nonprofits across the city,” Raffaele said. “There’s an opportunity right now to really bring QCA to where it deserves to be and stronger, bigger and a more services-oriented organization.”

Raffaele, a well-known entrepreneur who had operated Coffeed at Hunters Point South Park for several years, was already a member of the Board of Trustees at both organizations.

“So at one point a few months ago I had a bit of a eureka moment saying it would make sense if there were a collaboration between the two institutions,” Raffaele told QNS Tuesday. “Then talks of collaboration between Costa and Walter Sanchez, the president of the board of directors at Variety, and I turned into a full-on merger which we are all excited about.”

VBGCQ, which was established in 1955, currently serves more than 4,000 young people every year.

“Merging the two organizations brings together rich history and vital resources,” Sanchez said. “The vision of our boards are quite similar. On behalf of the board at Variety, we welcome QCA into our family.”

Raffaele, 50, was raised in Howard Beach and worked for NYC Parks Commissioner Henry Stern. He worked as a trader on Wall Street until 2008, at which point he pivoted and became the founder and CEO of Coffeed Roasters, with its flagship cafe in Dutch Kills, where he became a community leader. Raffaele currently operates the Sanctuary, a popular wedding and event space, on Roosevelt Island.

He said QCA remains headquartered on the ground floor of the Maximillian Building at 5-11 47th Ave. in Long Island City which became its home in July 2021.

Queens Council on the Arts moved into its Long Island City home in July 2021 and had to scale back programming as the pandemic dragged on. Photo courtesy of the Queens Council on the Arts

“Yep, it’s still open. We’ve been letting groups use the exhibition space for a few different openings recently and we have another one coming up in a couple of weeks,” Raffaele said. “Ofrenda Fest has an opening on April 13, that features the work of five Shipibo artists from the Amazon Rainforest in Peru.”

Photo courtesy of the Queens Council on the Arts

VBGCQ also announced the revival of the Middle School/High School to Arts School program where students from Queens will be given the opportunity to receive free mentorship and assistance in creating their high school and middle school portfolios. The initiative saves families thousands of dollars in expensive art lessons. There are also plans for additional programs to support youth in various artistic realms.

“Congratulations to the teams at both VBGCQ and QCA. Both organizations have a long history of improving the lives of my constituents in Western Queens,” said state Sen. Kristen Gonzalez in a statement. “I look forward to this merger, which will give even more young artists in my district access to resources that will help them learn and grow.”

Assemblymember Zoran Mamdani also applauded the merger of the two organizations.

“This union will ensure that young people have equitable access to the arts in the world’s borough for years to come,” Mamdani said. “Building an even more inclusive and vibrant Queens.”

Council Member Julie Won, who represents western Queens, noted that VBGCQ has supported enriching arts and after-school programming at P.S./I.S. 78 in her district.

“This partnership between two long standing Queens institutions will ensure that even more of our scholars have access to arts programming, resources, and support to nurture their creativity,” Won said. “Thank you Costa, VBGCQ and QCA for your partnership in fostering our children’s growth and learning.”

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