Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts of Blue Mountain Lake, NY (the Arts Center) held a celebration for the recipients of the 2016 New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) decentralization grant awards at the Adirondack Carousel in Saranac Lake last weekend.  As regional administrator for the ADK Quad-County Cultural Arts Grants, the Arts Center supports arts and cultural initiatives in Clinton, Essex, Franklin and Hamilton Counties.

According to Christine Pouch, the new Executive Director for the Arts Center, “There are 35 grant recipients under the community programs category this year and another five teaching artist awards for a total of $90,000 grant awards given to North Country arts programs.” Pouch, a resident of Indian Lake since 2006, brings 15 years of non-profit resource and business development experience to her new role as Executive Director and administrator for the region’s NYSCA’s decentralized grant programs.

The Arts Center’s new Executive Director, Christine Pouch.

The Arts Center’s new Executive Director, Christine Pouch.

Pouch’s first days on the job were anything but typical, but with years of non-profit experience to pull from, she simply took it in stride and pressed forward, “When we started, I worked for two weeks out of the interim director’s kitchen and then I moved to my kitchen for a week because our building didn’t get opened until April. So as soon as we opened the building, which had been closed since October, we had to deal with some small pipe breaks, water leakage, and do a few repairs,” recalled Pouch.  Once settled in, Pouch and her team quickly pulled together the grant celebration and are well underway with plans for their upcoming season events and workshops.

Her attitude toward making magic happen with limited resources and often numerous obstacles is typical of the type of people who work for arts and cultural organizations. Oftentimes, they keep community programs alive by sheer determination and the dedication of local volunteers that always seem to be there when you need them the most.

NYSCA’s decentralized grants play an important role in ensuring that access to community arts and cultural programs continue from one year to the next.  Without the support from the state and organizations like The Saranac Lake Rotary Foundation that works with organizations to help secure grant funding, many of these programs would simply disappear.

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Mitchell Smith, President of The Saranac Lake Rotary Foundation

According to Mitchell Smith, President of The Saranac Lake Rotary Foundation, “The club established the Foundation in the year 2000 to work with unincorporated groups that needed a financial structure or representation so that they can go out and do what they do for the community.” The Foundation has helped several organizations secure grant funding over the last 3-4 years including HoboFest, composer Glen McClure and the Northern Lights Choir.

The Honorable Billy Jones, Chair of the Franklin County Board of Legislators, spoke about the importance of the arts and cultural programs within the quad-county region. “They bring a cultural asset to the communities involved in the North Country. I think arts and culture is extremely important for this region. It adds to the fabric of our communities. And when you look at the number of people who volunteer their time toward these projects…it just shows the incredible effort on their part to keep these projects going. You can see it in every one of the communities around here.

The Honorable Billy Jones, Chair of the Franklin County Legislature.

The Honorable Billy Jones, Chair of the Franklin County Legislature.

The people who get involved and are behind these programs are a good showcase of who we really are,” commented Jones.  According to Jones, Franklin County had several recipients this year with one from his hometown of Chateaugay, NY. Others were from the Village of Malone and Saranac Lake.

Many of the grant recipients participate in the program for a number of years. Bonnie Lewin, with the Cabin Fever Players from Indian Lake, has been participating in NYSCA’s grant program since 1997. They just completed another successful production supported by NYSCA funds.  Their production of Disney’s Mary Poppins had three sold out shows that generated over 600 attendees. Lewin shared the vital role that decentralized grant funding played in pulling off a show like Mary Poppins.  “We used local, volunteer actors from Indian Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, Long Lake and as far away as Queensberry. We had 26 actors, 17 crew members and six musicians involved in the production. The grant money helped offset the costs of professionals that were simply harder to come by in the Indian Lake area…a paid director, producer and lighting professionals.”

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Bonnie Lewin (right), with the Cabin Fever Players from Indian Lake and her daughter (left)

Another grant was awarded to Rebecca Kelly and husband, Craig Brashear’s Applebee Foundation this year.  Their foundation is responsible for the creation of The Tahawus Lodge Center for culture, community and commerce in the North Country.  According to Brashear, “We’ve been doing business in the Adirondacks since 1987 as Rebecca Kelly Ballet through the Arts Center in Lake Placid. About seven years ago we were inspired by then Senator Hillary Clinton to put some more roots down in the area, and began looking for a location that we could develop into a center for community, commerce and culture so that we could have a more permanent situation.” Their Tahawus Lodge in Ausable Forks, NY, once a Masonic Hall in much need of renovations, today hosts events with a dance studio on the top floor, houses a gallery/community space on the second floor, and offers ground floor business space on Main Street. According to Kelly, their vision for Tahawus is a place where people can explore their ideas and creative energy. “Something we could be proud of… a cultural hub for the greater AuSable Forks community.”

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Craig Brashear with Rebecca Kelly Ballet

Kelly and Brashear’s passion for the arts has been a treasured asset for Adirondack communities going back to 1987.  As Kelly describes it, “We came to the Adirondacks because of a meeting when we were performing in NYC in the symphony space theater on the Upper West Side. There happened to be a man in the audience by the name Robin Pell who was, at the time, the Director of the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. He said, ‘you must bring your company up to the Adirondacks.’ So, I said sure…not knowing exactly where that was. We thought Upstate New York was Albany and after that it was Canada. We went up there in 1987 for a two-week residency and have been back every year since for 37 years now.”

Over the years, Rebecca Kelly Ballet has become synonymous with their popular OnStage dance program that began in 1989 for students between the ages of 7-19 years of age.  The program continues today helping children dance techniques with ballet as the core. “Thousands of kids that have come through the program as young people are now bringing their own children to OnStage for training,” noted Kelly.

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Rebecca Kelly of Rebecca Kelly Ballet

For many couples, an impressive career in ballet and modern dance would be enough, but for Kelly and Brashear that was just the beginning.  The Tahawus Lodge Center is their latest investment in the Adirondack region, and with the support of NYSCA funding their renovations will continue this year with heat to the attic as a priority for additional usable space.

When you look at the wealth of artistic and cultural talent that participated in this year’s NYSCA Decentralized Grant Program, it’s hard not to be impressed. The one common thread that seems to emerge after talking to a few of the 2016 recipients is that funds distributed through the NYSCA’s Decentralized Grant program are not only worthwhile, they return much more than one would expect in terms of quality of life and cultural amenities…they preserve the cultural heritage of our North Country communities. They literally keep dreams alive for artists and arts organizations and serve to inspire the creativity of our youth…not just for today…but for generations to come.