Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined a walking tour of the proposed Astoria Waterfront Arts District on Feb. 13 with a group of community members and stakeholders to learn more about the project.
The Astoria Waterfront Arts District would stretch from Astoria Boulevard south to include Rainey Park and would include numerous cultural institutions housing hundreds of graffiti artists, abstract painters, sculptors, muralists and many more who contribute to the landscape of the community. The tour began at the Welling Court Mural Project across from the Astoria Houses and along the waterfront to Socrates Sculpture Park and ended at the Noguchi Museum across Vernon Boulevard, where she told the group she was happy to elevate project proposals for the community.
“A lot of folks sometimes aren’t aware of how much any congressional office can assist but especially when it comes to federal grants and applications,” she said. “We’re more than happy to put in a good word and that usually can help.”
Alison Wallis led the tour and explained how the neighborhood has changed in recent years as visitors steered clear in the past due to crime, and the arts community has played a huge role in its transformation.
“Neighborhoods cannot be as vital and resilient as they are without that art component. I’m a firm believer that that’s a healer and a motivator,” Wallis said. “Lots of groundbreakers and amazing people have come from this neighborhood so we want to continue, in the development of all of this, just pay homage to all the amazing families that are here and hoping to get some kind of funding or something to keep them here, because a lot of that culture and knowledge and generational heritage is what makes this area so vibrant and beautiful.”
Old Astoria Neighborhood Association President Richard Khuzami said the launch of the NYC Ferry service to Hallets Cove has opened up the area to visitors from the other boroughs. As a performing artist, he told Ocasio-Cortez his goal is to bring a performing arts space to Rainey Park.
“What we would like to push for at some point is some sort of performance space or stage in that area,” Khuzami said. “This would draw more people to the neighborhood. It’s going to help everybody. It’s going to help small businesses. It’s going to help the residents. We want to see this area grow and we also want to make sure that we’re also including people from the NYCHA complexes, too.”
Ocasio-Cortez spoke about how redistricting has changed her focus on the western Queens waterfront. She no longer represents Long Island City and can focus more on Astoria.
“We’re incredibly excited to be picking up some of these parts of Astoria and finally having all of Astoria in one district is so great because it allows us to really program and it allows us to really develop a plan for the whole community,” she said urging them to reach out to her office so they could all work together to help the neighborhood grow.
She then turned to climate issues that impact the waterfront neighborhood, mentioning that she worked with Congresswoman Grace Meng and Senator Charles Schumer to secure $120 million in funding for water infrastructure projects in Queens.
“We really want to support you, especially in preparing for upcoming storms or any vulnerabilities that you all see as we make those deeper long-term investments. We want to make sure we’re protecting our community from these short-term emergencies as much as possible,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Given what happened with Ida, we just want to prevent anything like that from happening as much as we can.”
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.