First ‘Art Walk’ comes to Metro

A little rain did not stop the Forest Hills and surrounding communities from coming out to support local artists over the weekend.

Metro Village Forest Hills, a small business alliance founded by Rachel Kellner of Aigner Chocolates, and Eileen Arabian of DEE’S Wood Fired Pizza + Kitchen, put together the first-ever Metropolitan Avenue of Art event.

AnnaMarie Prono showed her “100 Days of Birds” art series.

At the event, members of the community could go on a free, self-guided tour down Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills, and visit the 11 businesses who housed different artists’ work.

Joana Chu, a real estate salesperson at Home Court Real Estate, helped coordinate the event with Kellner and Arabian, along with Teri Basile of Art World Custom Framing.

“We kind of brainstorm different ideas and ways to drive traffic to the avenue, and that is how this event became an offshoot of one of our meetings,” Chu said. “So the four of us were interested in really hunkering down and actually putting the event together.”

Chu added that Metro Village’s main goals for the event were to familiarize the community with local businesses, as well as provide an outlet for artists.

“I think it’s really difficult for local artists to have venues and free opportunities to show their art and to sell their art,” she said. “So we thought this would be a nice way to support them, and to kind of connect with the community and have them become aware of both the artists and the businesses.”

Alan Cory Kaufman, a Forest Hills resident, displayed his artwork inside Aigner Chocolates.

His work consisted of acrylic paintings of various animals, primarily fish, that were executed in a playful, almost childlike manner.

Kaufman said that he started painting to keep himself busy while rehabilitating himself after he had undergone brain surgeries and spent a lot of time at home.

Alan Cory Kaufman displayed his artwork at Aigner Chocolates.

“I’m not really a trained artist, but acrylic paints are fun. They’re easy, and they’re simple to get,” Kaufman said. “I spent a couple of hours each day painting and they accumulated, and my wife Susan led me up to participate in this event when we ran out of space on our wall.”

Axel Checa, an architect with the Department of Buildings whose work was displayed at Dylan’s Restaurant, also does art for therapeutic reasons.

Checa, who is Native American and identifies as two-spirit, said that her artwork is a way for her to express and discover herself during the darkest of times.

“This piece is from five years ago, when I was in college, and just starting art. I made it to be secure and to comfort me, because at that time, I had no idea I was trans,” Checa said in reference to a self portrait.

“It’s funny because there’s two people in the portrait: the hood version of me and the spiritual version of me,” she continued. “It’s kind of a dark piece. I used it to get through some feelings of discomfort and not knowing who I am or what I’m doing.”

Other artists, like Debra Mintz, use art as a way to relocate their inner child.

Mintz is a graduate of Yale School of Art, and a retired teacher from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, where she taught for over 20 years.

“These are abstract, and I quote my father when it comes to these. He said if you are yourself then you will always be original,” she said. “Even though I’m highly educated,

I’ve always tried to think deep down inside and find out who I am and relocate the child in me. And that’s how I found all these shapes.”

Mintz uses any art material known to man to create her works, and the drawings she displayed featured various abstract shapes and bright, eye-catching colors.

Many community members came out to support the artists, including Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and Councilman James Gennaro. A lot of the featured artists said they made quite a few sales during the art walk.

“There’s just a sense of a small town when you walk down Metropolitan Avenue. It has a different feel, and we really want to foster that,” Chu said.

“The fact that the small business owners are getting to know each other, and we’re all neighbors, many of them live above their businesses and many of them have been there for 20 years,” she continued. “So I think it’s really important to kind of make sure that we stay connected, and we support each other and each other’s businesses, so we can all thrive.”

Forest Hills resident celebrates 30 years living with MS

When AnnaMarie Prono was 27, she woke up one morning feeling like her left hand had fallen asleep.

She brushed it off and went on a week-long cruise in the Caribbean, only to experience more sensations of numbness and pins and needles throughout other parts of her body.

A spinal tap confirmed that Prono had multiple sclerosis, a disease in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of nerves.

“I saw a general neurologist who specialized in epilepsy at the time, and he told me, ‘Yes, you have multiple sclerosis. You should get a cane and stay out of the heat,’” Prono said.

“He just sent me on my way,” she continued. “I was like, ‘How can this be?’”

When she was first diagnosed, Prono felt discouraged when her doctor told her that there’s no cure for MS, and because it’s so rare, pharmaceutical companies did not want to spend substantial funds to research the disease.

She was prescribed steroids to calm the flare ups, and informed that the FDA would approve three new injectable treatments to slow the progression of MS.

“I was very shy of starting any of that because this was all new, and I didn’t know the long term effects and what it would do to me,” she said.
“I wondered when I would get another flare up. When will I have all my feeling back in my hand, and when are my eyes going to be normal again so I can drive? I was told to wait and see,” she continued.

Two years after her first episode, Prono experienced another where she was completely numb from the waist down, her pupils jumped up and down and she had vertigo.

This instance prompted her to try different treatments to help prevent intense episodes from recurring.

However, when she got tired, her symptoms would flare up, which was a common occurrence from her high stress job as an architect and construction manager.

“I remember I was working on a project where we looked at a statue. Normally, I would just jump or climb up anything to look, and for the first time I said I was afraid to do it because I didn’t trust that I wasn’t going to fall,” Prono said.

“My new neurologist at NYU told me I have secondary progressive MS, which was devastating,” she continued. “I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t work anymore, and I thought my life was over.”

Prono has participated in various studies with NYU, which included transcranial direct stimulation—a service that is not yet FDA approved—but has shown great success for her.

This year, Prono celebrates 30 years of living with MS, and with that, 30 years of leading the AMTeam in WalkMS.

Upon signing up for her first walk, Prono said it is something she will continue to do as long as she is able to walk.

“I think I’ve raised $240,000 over the last 30 years with my team. Friends and family have been amazingly supportive,” she said. “Because this is the 30th year, and I never thought that I’d get to 30 years, I decided I needed to do something special to raise money and awareness.”

On the weekend of Palm Sunday, Prono held an art showing at Our Lady of Mercy in Forest Hills, where she displayed her original artworks and sold prints to raise money for National MSSociety.

Over the course of the pandemic, she worked on a personal art series called “100 Days of Birds.” From hummingbirds to peacocks, she used colored pencils to explore drawing a different bird each day.

After reaching 100, she went on to draw insects and other animals, as well as numerous religious figures.

“I would tell people that during the pandemic, the one hour I spent drawing was probably the best hour of my day,” Prono said.

“This year, I took part in an art therapy study with the University of Florida, and I’m currently enrolled in an art therapy program with NYU Langone,” she continued. “That has been very eye opening for me.”

Prono also participates in equine therapy at GallopNYC Forest Hills, and recently wrote a musical about Mother Cabrini and a little girl that had MS.

Although she’s now quite open about her journey with MS, Prono said that wasn’t always the case.

“Thirty years ago, I was afraid to tell people. I was afraid about losing my job,” she said. “Now, I talk to people about it openly, and I’ll just come out and say it.”

“Now, 30 years after my diagnosis when there were no approved treatments for MS, we have 16 different disease modifying therapies that are approved by the FDA,” she continued. “If you don’t get the answer you want, keep looking.”

Meng announces winners of congressional art contest

Congresswoman Grace Meng of Queens announced that Natalie Huang, an 11th grade student from Bayside, has been selected as the winner of the congresswoman’s congressional district art contest.
“The COVID-19 crisis has allowed our youth to take the time to discover new skills and perfect others,” said Meng. “Natalie’s artwork is an exceptional piece that symbolizes the hope that spring beauty brings, a hope that we all need in order to get through this pandemic together.”
The competition, which consisted of entries from Queens high school students, is part of “An Artistic Discovery,” the national art contest held annually by the House of Representatives to showcase the artwork of all congressional district art contest winners from across the nation.
Huang’s winning artwork – along with the winning pieces from contests throughout the United States – will be displayed for one year within the halls of the U.S. Capitol.
“I’m glad that despite the pandemic, we were still able to hold the art contest for local students, so that we can continue to recognize their wonderful artistic talents,” Meng added.
Huang, who attends Friends Academy, won the competition for her watercolor painting entitled “Arrival of Spring.”
“The pandemic has provided me with the time and space to create art, and I am so happy that my artwork can be shared for all to see in the nation’s capital,” said Huang.
Meng announced her as the winner during a reception she hosted for students and their families, art teachers, principals and school administrators in the outdoor garden at Flushing Town Hall, where all of the submitted artwork had been on display.
In addition to Huang, Meng announced Kaitlyn Murphy, a recent senior at St. Francis Preparatory High School in Fresh Meadows won second place for her piece titled “Elmhurst 2020.”
Emilio Espinal-Santiago, a senior also at St. Francis Preparatory High School in Fresh Meadows won third place for “Loss and Renaissance.”
Meng presented all the students who entered with certificates of Congressional recognition.
Entries were submitted in several mediums including paintings, collages, drawings and prints.
The Artistic Discovery contest was launched in 1982 for Members of Congress to highlight the artistic work of high school students from around the nation. Since it began, more than 650,000 high school students from throughout the United States have participated in the competition.

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