Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts was founded in 1979 by Jo-Ann Jones, a classically trained musician and board member of the Oratorio Society of Queens, and Aaron Weiss, a businessman and social activist, to promote and develop the visual and performing arts in Flushing. The organization operated initially under the name Arts and Culture Committee of the Downtown Flushing Development Corporation and its office (one desk) was located in the Downtown Flushing Development Corporation Office on 39th Avenue, Flushing.
Working with the DFDC, the Committee quickly began to raise the profile of the arts in Flushing by sponsoring performing arts events and visual arts exhibitions featuring Queens artists at various locations throughout the borough. The Council also began publishing what would become a longtime service, a culture calendar that helped to promote the programming of many other Queens arts organizations.
In 1983, the organization was incorporated under the name The Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts (FCCA) and in 1984 it moved to offices in a second floor apartment at 136-73 41st Avenue. The Council's first in-house exhibition was held in that space in 1984.
In the following year, the Council established an exhibition space on the ground floor of that apartment building and presented four to six exhibitions in that space annually. Performances continued to be presented at other Queens locations. The Council also began to offer more services to artists and arts organizations, assisting with grant writing and technical support.
In 1990, the NYC Department of General Services (later renamed the NYC Department of Design and Construction) invited FCCA to submit a proposal for the use of Flushing Town Hall, a 19th century, city-owned building located on Northern Blvd in Flushing that had fallen into a ruinous state. FCCA had been part of a group lobbying to save the building for many years.
Flushing Town Hall was and is an historically significant building, a NYC landmark, built in 1862, and also on the National Register of Historic Places. It opened officially in 1864, the second year of the Civil War, and was designed in the early Romanesque Revival style of its time. The building was used, variously, as a mustering site for Union soldiers, a bank, jail, grand ballroom, a public assembly hall, a setting for light opera and traveling theatrical productions, and to house civic offices.
From 1902 (following Flushing's incorporation into the City of New York in 1898) until the early 1960's, Flushing Town Hall functioned as a courthouse. Given protected status by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1967 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, the building had nevertheless suffered extensive neglect from the late 1960's until 1990.
After commissioning a pro bono study that assured that the building could be renovated, Ms. Jones submitted a proposal for a multicultural arts center along with supporting testimony from Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. FCCA was awarded a long-term lease to the property.
When the Council took over the structure, the first step was to stabilize it, a job that was funded primarily by the NYC Department of General Services. Once that work was completed, the Council's offices were moved in.
Extensive restoration followed under the direction of the architectural firm of Platt and Byard and the general contractor selected by the NYCDDC, working with Jo-Ann Jones, Howard Graf, an architect and President of the Council at that time, and Peter Calvacca, a retired engineer and FCCA volunteer to develop a master plan for changes in the landmark. In 1993, the first floor galleries were opened. The $8 million restoration continued until 1999 when the second floor theater was opened to the public.
In its new location, the Council drew increased attention from followers of the visual and performing arts, government officials, funding sources and the general public. In 1996, Borough President Shulman convinced Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to name Flushing Town Hall with its programming by the Council to the City's Cultural Institutions Group. Members of this group of thirty-four highly valued institutions in the City's cultural life occupy city-owned buildings and receive city funding for general operating costs.
In 2003, upon Jo-Ann Jones retirement, Harvey Seifter, a classical trained musician was appointed Executive and Artistic Director of Flushing Council. In 2004, during Seifter's tenure, the Council became an affiliate organization of the Smithsonian Institution, and has dramatically increased the variety and numbers of events in its program schedule.
Over its 27-year history, Flushing Council has made noteworthy progress from being a small, albeit ambitious volunteer organization, to one having a 2006 budget of $2.2 million for the support and presentation of the performing and visual arts and for community programs. The audience for the Council's programs now extends throughout Queens and beyond.