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Photography as a tool for Community Building, Interview with Queenscapes founder Adolfo Steve Vazquez

For about a year, I came across an Instagram page titled “Queenscapes” which depict various pictures of the beauty of Queens not only the landscape but also its community. The organization curates numerous events throughout the year around Queens neighborhoods.

About a month ago, I was invited by its founder Adolfo Steve Vazquez to join them alongside Five Boro Story Project on their second fundraiser to help the victims of hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The fundraiser took place this past Thursday at Vintage Wine Bar in Astoria with a photography exhibition, live painting, poetry, and storytelling. There, I had the opportunity to chat with Adolfo about Queenscapes and what inspired him to create it.

WA: Introduce yourself to our readers,  tell them about yourself and what do you do?

Photo Credit: Ruben Ramales

AV: My name is Adolfo Steve Vazquez and I run Queenscapes, a community organization that produces photography programs throughout every neighborhood in Queens.

WA: What inspired you to create Queenscapes?

AV: The inspiration for Queenscapes primarily comes from a deeply rooted love of my hometown of Queens, and a constant yearning of wanting to learn more about its geography, history and most important cultures.

WA: When did it launch and why is important for you to do this?

AV: Queenscapes launched officially as an organization in 2016. I feel it is important for us to exist today because we reinforce a source of pride in the people of Queens through real engagement, and due to the lack of organizations that focus on community building through the use of photography. I don’t think this is exclusive to Queens, either. I am not aware of any organization which involves and engages a community in a very specific area the way we do.

WA: In your opinion, what is the role of an artist in the community?

AV:  I feel the role of the artist in the community is significant. By producing artistic work in our neighborhoods, we are expressing our inherent perspectives, which is key in helping people understand and appreciate one’s differences. I think this is especially important in Queens, where due to our tremendous diversity, language can be a barrier, and art/photography can serve as a common denominator between cultures and help facilitate communication.

WA: How do you generate new ideas for your programs?

AV: Believe it or not, generating new ideas is the easiest part of what we do. As New York City’s largest borough, covering over 109 square miles, and the most culturally diverse place on the planet, the potential for stories are simply endless, as is the different approach to each story.

From Brazil with Love. Photo Credit: Ruben Ramales

WA: What would you say are the key elements for the creation of community-based organizations?

AV: To me the single most important element to creating a community organization is passion. Nobody buys into the work you are doing if you are not immensely passionate about it. Find an aspect of your community you are passionate about, and then focus on how you can make improvements. From there the support comes organically and resources become easier to find. Everything else is easy to learn.

WA: What has been your most satisfying moment as a Community Organizer and as an Artist?

AV: Every event we’ve had has been tremendously satisfying to me for unique reasons each time, but the most satisfying moment is still the first event back in 2015 when weren’t yet technically an organization. New York.com selected me to take part in a 5 borough Photowalk competition, where they paired popular Instagrammers into groups of 3, with 2 groups heading tours in each borough. Out of a total of 10 groups, our group in Queens, tabbed “Queens Reign Supreme” killed the competition. We had by far the most participants from any group, in any borough. That was also the moment I realized that there was a need for what we do now.

Queens Reigns Supreme. Photo Credit: Keith Montero

WA: Who has been your greatest inspiration?

AV: As a kid growing up hands down, I would have to say, Junot Diaz. As a teenager reading “Drown” and seeing how closely his formative years resembled mine, served as a tremendous source of inspiration for me to begin writing and to pursue it heavily in high school and then in college. Within the last 3-4 years, I’ve become a huge fan of David Gonzalez for both his journalism and photojournalism with the New York Times.

WA: How do you go about marketing your events? What has been your most successful form of marketing?

AV: We do a few things to market our events, but primarily we rely heavily on posting flyers on Instagram. Since I still have a very active presence on that platform, I get the most results from uploading a flyer, and continually reposting it, and asking folks in my social media network to also repost as well, sometimes multiple times leading up to the event. I always register each event on Eventbrite because I’m able to keep track of folks that are interested enough to supply me their email address. My contact list of emails has grown to almost 300 on Eventbrite alone. We also generate press releases that we send out to local Queens press weeks before the event. Lastly, I post a blog update usually a couple days before on our website www.queenscapes.nyc.

Photo Credit: Adolfo Steve Vazquez

WA: In one sentence, define Queens.

AV:“Queens is my world.”

WA: What’s next for Queenscapes?

AV: The next thing in store for Queenscapes is eventually forming into a full-fledged non-profit organization that not only serves every single neighborhood in Queens but also caters to every single resident in Queens as well.

 

 

For more on Queenscapes, follow them at:

Facebook: Queenscapes

Instagram: @queenscapes

Twitter: @queenscapes

 

 

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About wendyang

Wendy Angulo is a New York City born Latina, raised in Caracas, Venezuela. Wendy is a mother, writer, lawyer and the founder of Wendy Angulo Productions, an organization whose goal is to support, encourage, and promote poetry and visual arts in the borough of Queens. Wendy, re-discovered her love for writing in the summer of 2011 after attending a spoken word event in Queens. She then joined the New York City Latina Writers Group where she has been an active member and has taken on the role as the organization’s Program Director. Wendy is an essayist who is currently working on her Memoir. She has read her work at several venues throughout New York City, including Nuyorican’s Poets Cafe, East Harlem Cafe, Sankofa Sisterhood, Camaradas and has been published in the online journal Mom Egg Review; she is a 2016 VONA alum and the sole creator/curator and producer of Canvas of Words, an art and poetry showcase that birthed of Wendy’s desire to bring the arts back to her beloved borough of Queens. Wendy continues to scout for new talent and build new connections to perpetuate the arts and strengthen the literary community.

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