Neighborhood Stories Art Opening June -November 2017

June- November 2017 BY LYNN KENNEDY

NYC Parks and the Friends of Astoria Heights Park are pleased to present a temporary installation of ceramic tiles by Astoria artist Penelope Eleni. In ten tiles, “Neighborhood Stories”, a collaborative art installation, made of ceramic tiles, will be exhibited at Rainey Park from June to Nov. 2017.

 An opening of the piece, prior to installation, was shown May 23, 2017 at Woodside Community Center, Astoria, NY.

Lynn Kennedy, Diane Sharon, Penelope Eleni and young artists at opening

“Neighborhood Stories” is a narrative illustration of our Queens community made by 18 children, their parents, and instructor Penelope Eleni (Gaitanis Katsaras).
   “Neighborhood Stories” was made possible by the Friends of Astoria Heights Park, Sunnyside Community Center at Woodside Houses, the NYC Park’s Department, and City Council representative Costa Constantinides.

Imagery colorfully displays what Queens means to the children.  Hence, they made out of clay: cars, houses, apartment buildings, dogs, people, and even a unicorn and robot.

Artists with their work

About the piece, Penelope says, “The funny thing is that two days in a row someone told me that there is a kiln at the Woodside Community Center not being used.  It was an exciting coincidence.   When I first saw the space at Woodside, I was blown away.  While it hadn’t been used in years and was a huge mess that needed to be cleaned, it was also a fully equipped ceramic studio with a kiln and glazes.  I was thrilled because ceramic facilities are a rarity in NYC.  The children of Woodside and Queens are lucky to have a beautiful local ceramic studio.” and “Children are always gifted artists because they know how to play.”

Penelope Eleni lives and maintains an artist studio in Astoria NY. She is a mother of three young children (an older son and twin girls). Moreover, she is a former professor of art and former elementary school art teacher.

She received a bachelor’s of arts in history from Rutgers University; a bachelor’s of fine arts in ceramics from The New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University; and a master’s of fine arts in ceramics from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Moreover, she has studied ceramic art internationally in Mexico, South Korea and Greece.

Penelope Eleni’s mission is to create narrative artwork that communicates with children and instructs joyful lessons about: poetry, New York City, and certainly art.

Artist with her work

Friends of Astoria Heights Park is a group of neighbors who are committed to making Astoria Heights Park a beautiful, clean, safe, fun and inspiring public space. FoAHP began with a petition to the local community board in August 2013 to advocate for safety and beautification measures within the park. Through teamwork with FoAHP’s neighbors, they are promoting appreciation, investment, community pride, and regular involvement in the Park that will contribute to its improvement and upkeep over time.

Astoria Heights Park is one of 35 sites targeted in NYC Parks’ Community Parks Initiative, a multi-faceted investment in the smaller public parks that are located in New York City’s densely populated and growing neighborhoods. The Community Parks Initiative is NYC Parks’ first major equity initiative. It is investing $130 million capital dollars and also brings enhanced programming, maintenance, and community partnership building to community parks serving high-need communities. The initiative will engage New Yorkers in rebuilding local parks, create new reasons to get out and get fit, and reconnect communities to the green spaces right outside their doorsteps.

NYC Parks & Recreation’s Art in the Parks program has consistently fostered the creation and installation of temporary public art in parks throughout the five boroughs. Since 1967, collaborations with arts organizations and artists have produced hundreds of public art projects in New York City parks. For more information visit

Reflections in a New Year

Groundbreaking Ceremony for Astoria Heights Park

Groundbreaking Ceremony Astoria Heights Playground November 2016

What more could the Friends of Astoria Heights wish for in 2017? World peace would be amazing but perhaps a renovated playground will have to do?! After three years of playground advocacy, the playground is undergoing construction for a multi million dollar renovation.

Councilman Costantinides and Lynn Kennedy

Councilman Costantinides and Lynn Kennedy

Thanks to Councilman Costantinides, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Queens Community Board 1, City Parks Foundation with Partnership for Parks, the Parks Department with the Queens Parks Commissioner, Dorothy Lewindowski and NYC Parks Department Commissioner, Mitchell Silver, for believing in a slew of park volunteers and providing the funding,  the park will see its long overdue renovation, which is scheduled to last about 1 year. Renovations to include a new spray area,  a new adult work out area, expanded and designated play areas for toddlers, ages 5-12 and 12-15, a renovated bathroom, improved lighting, updated water fountains, and many new plantings and seating areas.

The Friends’ group is grateful for this much needed change and upgrade. Change can bring some temporary disruption and feelings of loss and sentimentality for the old, however, also represents a response to what a community needs. Big Kid Swings!

Park lover in November 2016 shortly before park closure

Park lover in November 2016 shortly before park closure

So much programming has taken place in the park over the last few years, from Community potlucks, Winter Olympics, Book Swaps, Holiday caroling, park and tree care, painting projects, to an art installation and performance events, basketball and tennis lessons, Fitness and international dance, movies, composting, and arts and crafts. Thank you to all of the local businesses who helped to support programming by making contributions.

Polish Youth Dance Troupe performing in Ocotber 2016

Wianek Polish Youth Dance Troupe performing in October 2016

Why is all of this important? It makes the seemingly impossible, possible.  Hope is created where there was none and people’s capacity for caring moves center place rather than getting lost in the day to day.

William Bryant Highschool students paint garbage cans

William Bryant Highschool students paint garbage cans

The world can use all of the help it can get. Having teens come out to beautify a park space, Army Reserves haul mulch, or developmentally delayed adults garden,  are actions supporting a better community and ultimately a better planet.

IS 10 students participate in 'ITs My Park Day'

IS 10 and William Bryant HighSchool students participate in ‘ITs My Park Day’

Every year around December and January, folks reflect upon their lives, for what we are grateful, our gains, our losses, and our hopes. In each new year, we can hope and do something better for ourselves, our families, neighbors, communities, the world and the planet.

Lauren Biniaris with Army Reserves

Lauren Biniaris with Army Reserves

I am grateful for this small park in Astoria, Astoria Heights Playground, that reminds me every day of the many challenges, successes, changes, connections, and hopes we have and experience in our lives.  When I witness a better, safer, responsive and more beautiful neighborhood developing , I hope for that parallel existence to extend to the larger world. On the flip side, as much as we hope, change does not come without first acknowledging the issues or problems and then putting in the effort to make change happen.

Park attendees enjoy an event

Park attendees enjoy an event

With great appreciation for what we have already achieved, the Friends of Astoria Heights Park ploughs forward in 2017. Scheduled to be on the roster of events supported by our Councilman’s generous advocacy for renewed discretionary funding for 2017, we will be able to support more programming, including a Free Little Library, an Art installation with workshops for the community, a ‘Pedal for Parks’ event, toddler playdates and bigger kid events, an Astoria wide parks’ symposium, and a block party with youth poetry jam.

To volunteer, contribute programming to an event or donate,  contact:

To make a tax deductible donation,  send a check  with ‘Friends of Astoria Heights Park’ (in the Memo) to: City Parks Foundation  Partnership for Parks – 830 fifth Ave New York, NY 10065