ON THE SCENE: Arts, sports, nature make the case with Sen. Schumer

Sen. Chuck Schumer talks to cast and crew of “The Nutcracker” ballet during a visit to the Lake Placid Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Nov. 22. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Representatives of the arts, environment and sports came together to welcome Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, to the Lake Placid Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Nov. 22. Their message was that there is a strong collaboration between these three aspects of education, life and work in the North Country.

They all supported the LPCA’s plan to upgrade its facilities dramatically. Furthermore, they believe that working together made this region more welcoming and a place of healing and wellness.

Schumer said the American spirit of collaboration and welcome has its roots in the values that the Dutch brought to New York City, Long Island and the Hudson Valley. He asked if anyone had read Russell Shorto’s book, “The Island at the Center of the World,” which illustrated how the pre-Pilgrim Dutch colony of New Netherlands’ ideals of tolerance, individual rights and welcome shaped our culture.

As only a few had, Schumer provided an overview of the author’s premise that New Amsterdam (later re-named New York City by the British) under the Dutch stood out as a welcoming community in contrast to many religious-based settlements and those that sought to take control of Native resources. He said the Dutch values of tolerance were so embedded in the region that it withstood Manhattan becoming a Tory enclave during the Revolutionary War and was reflected in the welcome the millions of immigrants experienced coming through Ellis Island decades later.

LPCA Executive Director James Lemons responded by saying how welcoming the art center is and how it provides office space for organizations such as the Lake Placid Sinfonietta and the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society.

Sen. Chuck Schumer looks at some artwork during a visit to the Lake Placid Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Nov. 22. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“Almost everyone here has taken part in our programs directly, or their kids participated in our programs,” said Lemons. “We all have so much gratitude for your support of Save Our Stages; it kept us open. We wouldn’t exist without it, and many other arts and organizations were in the same situation.”

“The only thing I ask is that you spread the word because the citizenry doesn’t know who kept you open,” said Schumer. “The leaders know, whether they are Democrat or Republican, but not the general citizenry. Government helps people. These days, when the government is in such disrepute, and it’s really because of a group of hard-right business people who don’t want to care for people, we depend on you, the average citizens, to spread the news. People don’t understand what an economic engine the arts are. People forget about that.”

Lemons said the arts center attracts about 65,000 people a year who attend their exhibitions and performances and participate in their many arts activities, such as dance, drawing, improv, painting and pottery classes. Attendees come from as far away as Watertown in the west, the Canadian border in the north and east to Lake Champlain, and when here, they often go to a restaurant either before or after a performance and shop in a variety of stores.

Schumer said he not only attends cultural events as often as he can, but the night before, he had a walk-on role in the Broadway show “Gutenberg! The Musical!” The show features a rotating list of guest stars who come on near the end and play the role of The Producer, and Nov. 21 was his chance. He said he had two lines, and he enjoyed it.

“One of my lines was, ‘He went that way!'” said Schumer.

While in the gallery, Schumer remarked on how nature was featured in a high percentage of the paintings and prints. Lemons said that not only does nature inspire artists, but the art center partners with environmental and sports organizations, as evident by the many representatives from those sectors welcoming him today.

Schumer loved having the opportunity to chat with a stage filled with children rehearsing for “The Nutcracker.” He thanked the kids for participating in the production and the parents for enabling them to be there. He then asked the people on stage how many remembered the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly all did.

“During COVID, places like this had no ability to allow people to come. That was true of art centers in Lake Placid and across the North Country,” he said. “They were about to shut down. So, I worked hard to get some money from the federal government in Washington to keep places open.”

“We very much want to thank you as a ‘Nutcracker’ community and I as an upstate community member for supporting the arts the way you do,” said Alice Schonbek, artistic director of the “The Nutcracker” ballet. “We wouldn’t be here without your support of the Lake Placid Center for the Arts and their support of us.”

The LPCA received a Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (Save Our Stages), which is a $16.5 billion grant program implemented by the Small Business Administration. SVOG was part of the America Rescue Plan that Schumer shepherded through the U.S. Senate.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, along with all Republicans, voted against the plan as she felt it was “filled with pork projects, special interest giveaways.” However, she has consistently voted for federal funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. Earlier this month, she was one of 50 Republications who voted against zero funding the Endowments. She serves as the co-chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus.

Afterward, Lemons and LPCA Managing Director Jon Donk shared images of their planned new performing art center, which would be located closer to Saranac Avenue to increase its visibility and enable all its programs to be held under one roof.

“Senator Schumer being here in person is so great because he could see firsthand what we do and how vital the Save Our Stages campaign has been to us and all the North Country performing arts centers,” said Tara Palen, director of education and outreach. “Arts in education is the gateway to involving children in the arts and helping them experience the health benefits of the arts. Participation in the arts benefits your mental and physical health and well-being. We live in one of the world’s most beautiful places, and the arts complement engaging in nature so well.”

“I think it’s essential for us in the North Country to tell the story of how vital the arts are as an integral part of our society and how they integrate with our environment and our sports industry,” said Lemons. “Working together, these three pillars help bring our region forward. The arts help improve the economy of where we live. We are so fortunate to have a senator who understands and supports the value of these activities.”

“As we heard, Senator Schumer is personally committed to this region,” said Rocci Aguirre, executive director of the Adirondack Council. “He comes here for relaxation. We heard how tied he is to the natural world, to the arts and to this arts center. It’s fantastic. Having this arts center as an asset in the center of the Adirondack Park says a lot about who we are as a community.”

(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the Lake Placid News for more than 15 years.)

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