Neighborhood Concert Partner: Flushing Town Hall
This season, Carnegie Hall celebrates 40 years of partnering with local community organizations to present free Neighborhood Concerts featuring outstanding main-stage artists as well as exciting rising stars of classical, jazz, and world music. These performances tap into the pulse of diverse communities across New York City and bring local residents together to share in the joy of music.
On April 22, Carnegie Hall will present a Neighborhood Concert with Matuto at Flushing Town Hall, which has partnered with the Neighborhood Concert series for the past seven seasons. We interviewed Sami Abu Shumays—deputy director of Flushing Town Hall and Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts—about the history of the building, the neighborhood of Flushing, Queens, and Flushing Town Hall’s relationship with Carnegie Hall’s Neighborhood Concerts.
The performance by Matuto on April 22 will be streamed live on ABC News. Access to the live stream will be available at abcnews.com/live.
What is the history of Flushing Town Hall?
Flushing Town Hall was built in 1862 as the seat of government for the still-independent town of Flushing. It had a ballroom where parties were thrown for returning Civil War soldiers; Frederick Douglass spoke there in 1865; and New York Community Bank was started in what is now the gift shop. After the incorporation of the five boroughs in 1898, Flushing Town Hall served as a courthouse until the 1960s. After that it had a number of uses—including a brief stint as a dinner theater in the early 1970s—but it was abandoned and fell into disrepair. It would have been demolished if it weren’t for the efforts of community leaders and elected officials who were determined to save the once-beautiful building. In the 1990s, they selected Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts (FCCA)—a local arts non-profit founded in 1979—to restore the building. The interior was renovated and the building was converted into a cultural facility with a 308-seat theater on the second floor (where some of Carnegie Hall’s Neighborhood Concerts take place, as well as other music, dance, and theater programming), an art gallery on the first floor, a gift shop, classroom space, and administrative offices. In 1996, Flushing Town Hall joined New York City’s Cultural Institutions Group (CIG), along with Carnegie Hall. It is also a Smithsonian Affiliate institution.
Can you describe some of the architectural details of the building?
Flushing Town Hall is a beautiful Romanesque Revival–style brick building, with arched windows, turrets, and an elaborate wood portico, which was recently restored. Some Flushing residents have commented that it looks like a magic castle!
What is one unique feature of Flushing Town Hall that you would like concertgoers to know about?
Our artist dressing room is a former jail cell, and the jail door is still attached. According to some visitors, Flushing Town Hall has ghosts who like to party and dance.
What kind of concerts and genres do you typically present?
We are multi-disciplinary, so in addition to great music programs—with a lot of jazz and world music—we present dance, theater, and film programs, and have rotating visual arts exhibitions in our first-floor gallery. We also present many high-quality arts education programs, bringing in schools from across the city to learn about Native American dance traditions, Taiwanese puppetry, or music from Mexico.
How long have concerts been taking place at the venue?
Concerts have been taking place since the early 1990s. The first-floor gallery was the first section of the building to be fully renovated, so we hosted jazz concerts there starting in 1993 while renovations to the second floor continued. Concerts started in the second-floor theater in 1999 after the full renovations were complete.
Photography: Sean Choi
How did Flushing Town Hall get involved with Neighborhood Concerts?
Our executive and artistic director Ellen Kodadek—who had worked with Neighborhood Concerts when she was at Snug Harbor Cultural Center in the 1990s—reached out to Carnegie Hall in 2009, about a year after she assumed the post. Carnegie Hall’s staff came out for a site visit and immediately fell in love with the building and the facility, and we’ve been hosting around two Neighborhood Concerts per year ever since.
What is your favorite Neighborhood Concert experience so far?
Every one of them has been amazing. The artists are top notch, and Carnegie Hall’s presence helps us build new audiences. If I had to choose one, it would be Kesivan and the Lights, an amazing South African jazz ensemble led by Kesivan Naidoo, whose music resonated not only with our celebration of jazz at Flushing Town Hall, but also with issues of race and multiculturalism in a way that was very contemporary and forthright. Plus it was such a fun, energetic show that got everyone on their feet! Ellen’s favorite Neighborhood Concert was a Carnegie Kids show with Elena Moon Park.
For concertgoers who are new to the neighborhood, what should be on their itineraries before or after a concert at Flushing Town Hall?
Food! There is so much amazing food in Flushing, especially if you’re a fan of Asian cuisine. You can find food from practically every region of China, as well as food from Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and more, right in the downtown area between the Main Street station and Flushing Town Hall. There’s excellent South Indian food near and at the Hindu Temple—a little farther out from downtown Flushing—and if you feel like hopping off the seven train in Elmhurst or Corona (a stop or two before Flushing), you can find amazing Mexican, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Peruvian, and Dominican cuisine.