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Arts leaders gather in Lake Placid

September 24, 2015
By NAJ WIKOFF - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - On Thursday Sept. 10, leaders representing a broad cross-section of cultural organizations gathered in Lake Placid at the invitation of a board member of AdkAction, Lee Keet.

They discussed opportunities to collaborate among themselves and to promote arts and culture with the help of state agencies.

Keet and the board view the opportunity to bring cultural agencies together as an outcome of the Common Ground meetings of political, educational and economic leaders of the Adirondacks held each summer in Long Lake. They also feel that coming together is a result of a regional series of planning meetings led by Dave Mason and Jim Herman. Developing a sustainable growth model was the overarching strategy coming out of these two planning processes.

Article Photos

Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism President and CEO Jim McKenna, left, Jim Herman and Dave Mason of Anthros Consulting
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Research sponsored by the Adirondack Foundation demonstrates that the nonprofit sector is a major economic incubator and an employer of choice for many young adults, the age group that all the leaders at Common Ground wish to attract and or keep from leaving.

Arts people were attending the annual meetings in slowly increasing numbers but had yet to coalesce. Therefore, Keet decided to facilitate the process by organizing a symposium.

Adk Action's interest in the benefits of the arts began earlier, taking the form of a series of street banners organized in cooperation with Saranac Lake ArtWorks, highlighting the village's growing reputation as an arts destination. This initiative was so well received that it was replicated in the town of Keene with equal success. As well, a pop-up art show was held this past summer in Lake Placid.

The day began with three presentations, the first by Lisa Robb, executive director of the New York State Council on the Arts; the second by Richard Newman, executive vice-president of state marketing strategy and Gavin Landry, executive director of tourism, both of Empire State Development; and the third by Bill Farber, former head of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages.

Robb shared that, of New York state regions, the Adirondacks attracts the highest percentage of its audience that are visitors (50 percent), and has the highest percentage of volunteers managing the region's agencies. She felt that the arts, especially in our region, had a tendency to operate with deficit budgets, rather than annual budgets that stay in the black and ideally put a percentage away to build endowments and address emergencies. She felt that this trend impeded their success.

Newman and Gavin outlined a variety of services that Empire State Development could provide to help cultural agencies increase visibility and attendance using the state's advertising and social media platforms. They said they needed compelling stories backed up with good photographs. Additionally, they urged the cultural community to consider bold collaborative initiatives to capture the public's imagination, initiatives to fit with Empire State Development's Adirondack event calendar. Farber built on this, noting the growing interest in plein air festivals and in encouraging partnerships involving craft beer, organic food or winery tours to heighten interest.

Three panel discussions and a working lunch followed, with participants gathering by area of interest. As well, three breakout sessions were held in the afternoon with arts organizations grouped by their association with the visual arts, performing arts or heritage activities. Reporting out participants highlighted such priorities the importance of collaborations, creating compelling experiences, developing season extenders, conducting research on visitors, determining the best ways to reach visitors and residents, developing regionwide calendars, and hiring a person to advocate on behalf of the arts and culture.

"People who live here who have French ancestry kept telling me that there is a lot of history here tied to France mostly through Quebec," said Jill Breit of Traditional Arts of Upstate New York. "The more I started talking to other cultural institutions and doing a little research I learned that they are right; we don't really promote it as part of our cultural identity here. Our French heritage has brought us a tremendous richness of different traditions and activities, music, dance, fiber arts, food traditions certainly. The partners we've brought together are hoping to do this on a really big scale."

"One of my takeaways is I am seeing possible collaborations between us and other organizations such as Adirondack Shakespeare and TAUNY," said Steven Engelhart, executive director of Adirondack Architectural Heritage. "That's where I will follow up. We've done quite a few events together where we have brought food together with architectural heritage and they were all huge hits."

"I felt the symposium went very well," said Dave Wolff, chair of AdkAction.

"The big job now is the next step," said Keet. "Today was the beginning not the end. We have to see if anyone is willing to follow through with their good ideas. We'll help them, but they have to take the lead. I think we had all the important cultural organizations from across the Adirondacks here. We wanted to see if these folks felt strongly about collaboration and apparently they do."

"I think people are willing to collaborate more understanding that their issues individually is the same as the large issues," said James McKenna, president and CEO of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, based in Lake Placid. "Meetings like this firm that up well. I think there is willingness for all these organizations to sit down now and figure out what they need to do to collectively expand."

"This was a great step for a more regionwide coordination of the arts and cultural entities of the North Country," said Mark Kurtz of Saranac Lake ArtWorks. "I think that's the value of today. We've learned in Saranac Lake that through working together we get more bang for our buck. We believe applying that approach will benefit other communities, and applied to the larger region will, in turn, further benefit Saranac Lake just as every other arts community will benefit."

"I think it's the beginning of a really interesting journey that we as arts and cultural organizations in the park need to take to really advance the region's reputation as a cultural destination," said James Lemons, director of the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. "That will require a lot of work, effort, and continued opportunity to get together to talk about the issues."

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