The emerging arts community in Amsterdam NY

Posted: July 11, 2012 in Social & Economic Dynamics
Tags: ,

If you had told me five years ago that a small but thriving arts community would exist in the Amsterdam area, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But after visiting a meeting of the Mohawk Valley Creative Alliance a while back, that’s exactly what I saw.

The group has been meeting consistently since January 2011 and reports 30 active members. There were about a dozen people attending the meeting I visited. The group represented a very diverse range of backgrounds, beliefs and artistic skills. There were writers, painters, photographers and musicians. They came from all over the region including one who travelled all the way from the Albany area. Several of the attendees brought their works, based on the month’s artistic challenge (theme) for the others to experience and discuss.

You can see and read more about the MVCA here…

I always knew that a lot of talented, creative people lived in the area. MVCA group leaders Jessica Murray and Carol Jordan have done an excellent job of creating a focal point for bringing these folks together. Their network, no doubt, extends far beyond the 30 regular members. The success of the group gives me a lot of hope, because I believe a thriving arts community is key ingredient for reviving the culture and economy in the region. The MVCA’s stated goal is to create an arts center and to locate it within Amsterdam. As the movement grows, my hope is that it begins to attract creative people to the city from the surrounding area.

It’s understandable to me that the group would latch on to Mayor Thane’s vision of converting a building on East Main St. an arts center. But I have to ask the question… Given the MVCA’s good organization and proven track record of success, why does the city need to create a separate entity, with a director and board chosen exclusively by the Mayor?  The idea of having an arts center is a good one. If there were not an organization capable of handling such a task, then I think having a city-government run center would be the next best thing. But since we do have such an organization, I would rather see the city support this effort, rather than duplicate it. Why doesn’t the city allow the MVCA to lease (or lease to own) the building, and allow them to sublet the space to other groups as they see fit?

A government-run arts program, by definition, will be affected by politics and public opinion. That’s far from the ideal environment for a vibrant, independent arts community to grow in.

  1. I agree wholeheartedly Tim.

    The whole situation stinks. The use of the city owned property, governance by the now private foundation and contract with the Urban dance group was never authorized by the Common Council as required by the Amsterdam City Charter.

    Article IV The Mayor and Acting Mayor / C-36 Powers and Duties
    F. On approval by the Common Council, to negotiate and grant leases, concessions, licenses and permits for use of City property and appurtenances and to execute deeds and enter into contracts on behalf of the City, as authorized by the Common Council.

    I attended the meetings to see the creation of the Art Center through to fruition. On several occasions I strongly suggested the Mayor seek Council approval as a first measure of action. When my suggestions were ignored and I was prevented from contributing or becoming a part of the group, I withdrew my support.

    • Rob Millan says:

      Jerry, it seems by your comment you support the arts only if there is some reciprocity or recognition by way of being named to the board. I don’t know why anyone would suddenly stop supporting a cause they had once shown a devotion for. I would encourage you to continue supporting the arts regardless if you were not selected for as a board member.

      Also, I think there is some misinformation regarding the dance group that needs clarification with regard to how they were contracted, if even there was a contract, if even one was needed. Rather than falsely assume to interpret law, please write your alderman and ask if they can clarify.

      • Roberto, I did support the effort until I realized what it was becoming. The interests of the community that did attend the meetings were virtually ignored and not represented by Thane’s select committee.

        The advisory committee met privately. The interested art community and public were prohibited from attending any of the planning phase or decision making sessions held by the community.

        You may want to present some facts instead of misrepresenting my intentions with your conjecture. You attended none of these meetings.

        I did speak to my Alderman concerning this situation and was told the Council was not a part of any of these negotiations.

      • Rob Millan says:

        Apologies for not making it clear the first time, but I do not believe the Common Council needs to approve the dance group or any other group using the space for that matter just like they don’t need to approve a family holding a reunion under one of the pavilions at Shuttleworth Park.
        To Tim’s point, you can argue for or against needing government in this project. Nevertheless, we are in the very nascent stages of what will surely be a positive thing happening in Amsterdam, one that fills a deep void. May I now suggest taking criticism of this good thing elsewhere.

      • Tim Becker says:

        And where shall we take it? 🙂 The use of public property, like it or not, is always fair game for criticism. It is owned by the public, and therefore the public has a right to voice their opinions. That’s exactly why I would rather give the building to the MVCA, so they don’t have to deal with politics or public opinion on an ongoing basis.

      • Roberto, The Urban Dance group is a business that charges for it’s service, a part if that fee goes to renting the Art Center. Looks like a contract to me. Any other use of City property to conduct a private business would be illegal. They were contracted by the Mayor well before she appointed her friends and political affiliates to the advisory board turned private foundation. The foundation has absolutely no legal authority to “run” the Art Center without legislative approval from the Common Council. The Charter is very clear on that point. As executive, the Mayor can only sign contracts approved by the Council, just as the concession at Riverlink Park must be approved and just as the Waterfront Foundation is given control of the Summer Concert Series.

  2. Nate Becker says:

    It’s very interesting that this handpicked group is being given free reign over the disposition of City property. I’m sure there are many other groups who could make excellent use of this space, and even complement the goals of a municipal arts program. The Montgomery County Literacy Project, as an example, would benefit greatly from use of this location. Why lock down the use of the space and limit the potential for interaction and synergy between community groups?

    • Tim Becker says:

      Well, I think giving the building to a “single purpose” organization, like a literacy program or something similar would be more limiting. From what I have read, the Mayor-appointed board intends to allow multiple groups, including the MVCA to use the space which is fine. In fact, the president of the group, Jessica Murray is on the board. However, if you read the earliest posts on the MVCA website, they have always intended to own their own building and help support other arts groups. My point is if we have already have a group with the right intentions, why create another one?

  3. diane says:

    While this organization may intend to own their own building, that is great. In the meantime there is an annual expense to operate this building somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-15,000.00 a year. Whether or not that includes liability insurance I do not know. The above figures have been published, but I do not remember from where. I think having a an arts organization is great, but why not rent space in the Noteworthy building the new home of the Elwood Museum? It would certainly be a lot cheaper than owning their own building. The mayor has taken over this property with NO authorization from the city council. There is no contract with the organization. Where does this leave the city? Wide open should anything happen. Until this organization signs an agreement with the city it should not be allowed the use of the premises.

    As for the issue of whether of not Jerry S is on the board, that is not the issue. People were asked to serve that never attended any of the meetings, what makes them more qualified than someone who attended the original meetings and contributed, or someone that may be a friend of the mayor’s. It is well known that the mayor does not like Jerry, which is a shame, but her personal choice. But why appoint a director that is her former personal assistant and has no arts background? Jerry is a professional photographer and graphic designer. Bottom line, the mayor can control Thom Georgia, and she cannot control Jerry S.

    Better yet, the city should sell the building and maybe another church organization would buy it. But sell it, and remove the city’s liability for this property.

    • Tim Becker says:

      When you use words like “control” or “puppet”, I feel it de-humanizes people. No doubt, Thom is a loyal friend of the mayor and that obviously factors into this situation. But that doesn’t necessarily mean she “controls” him as if he has no brain of his own.

  4. Jessica Murray, aside from being the co- founder of MVCA is also the legal assistance of County Democratic Chair Bethany Schumann McGee. According to Jessica, the bylaws of MVCA state the sole purpose of their organization is to establish an Art Center. Once established the organization would have fulfilled it’s purpose and dissolve.

    From the Art Center meetings that I attended, rooms in the building would be offerered to various groups in exchange for a rental fee to pay expenses. So far all the work done inthe building (cleaning, painting) has been accomplished by community volunteers. According to the Mayor, the building will eventually need a salaried Director and maintenance person on top of the annual utility fees.

    • Rob Millan says:

      Again, Jerry, if you feel there is a *malfeasance*, I urge you to take it up with your alderman rather than continue to feed into the misinformation.

      A contract for the dance troupe was not needed.

      Try more honey, and a lot less vinegar.

      That’s all I can say about that.

      • Rob, the only misinformation is coming from you. How can you possibly know anything about this situation? You live and work in New York City and did not participate in any of the planning. I know your job is to defend the Mayor at all cost, but this is getting ridiculous.

    • Tim Becker says:

      OK, Jerry and Rob, you have both made your points 🙂 And now you’ve both accused each other of making stuff up, so let’s call it quits on this back and forth now, thanks!

  5. diane says:

    I am a believer in less government and less government involvement in business. There is no reason why this organization needs to have any involvement from the mayor or the city, other than to make rent payments against the 12-15,000.00 in utilities, which I would hope would include the liability insurance. This should be a strictly private enterprise and have as little as possible to do with local government. This is not governments job. Our city has many more pressing issues then whether or not we have an arts center. The fact that Thom Georgia was appointed as Pres of this board no doubt puts him in line for the salaried director position. They mayor has been trying to get him a city job of some sort since his position as her assistant was cut by the council two years ago. That is fine as long as he is not a city employee, drawing city benefits.

    If this organization really wants to exist and succeed it needs to break away from local government involvement of any kind.

  6. Gloversville (Fulton County in general?) is seeing the same sort of artistic resurgence, including a nascent organization in the form of the new Micropolis Studio within Mohawk Harvest Cooperative.

    The solution of leasing floor space in an existing business is far preferable, to me, than the idea of any sort of government involvement.

    Your concern that government involvement will lead to politics and public opinion having an unnecessary amount of influence in the endeavor is only too true. I would suggest the organization find a way to completely avoid government entanglement, including avoiding using space provided by Amsterdam.

  7. bjaycjay says:

    I am very dismayed that the whole reason that the MVCA was created, has been received as a continuous conversation that leads to much arguing and misunderstanding.

    When the MVCA was created it was solely envisioned as a group to UNITE the “ARTS” community. With no clear vision of owning property, or even renting property. THE ALLIANCE IS SIMPLY A GROUP OF CREATIVE INDIVIDUAL ARTISTICALLY INCLINED PEOPLE WHO LOOK FORWARD TO FINDING A HOME TO CREATE< INSPIRE OTHERS THROUGH CLASSES, BOTH FOR PROFIT and NON-PROFIT and to possibly SHOW@ sell their own personal works, via gallery space that might be offered. PERIOD ! No one in the Alliance wants to take the responsibility or time that it takes to RUN an Arts center. That is a totally different pursuit.

    The Alliance is simply NOT a for profit business in itself, but an ENGINE to allow creative people to gather together to get EXCITED about artistic pursuits. The Alliance HAS NO MONEY, and the people who belong are not expected to contribute anything except their enthusiasm for the "ARTS".

    PERIOD !

    When the opportunity to be "housed" (meaning to have a place to call home, where we can meet comfortably, and use to inspire others to create) in the building on the East End of Amsterdam, which is in amazingly good shape was presented, many from the Alliance saw this as a wonderful opportunity to see the VISION that first came to the mind of it's FOUNDERS, myself and Jessica. We all, including those who had attended open houses of the building, were very impressed. This was a wonderful opportunity to utilize the space that had become available, and use it for the "ARTS". We all envisioned something wonderful happening.

    It did need organization, however, so the board was put together, and although some on the board, have not all been involved in the process from the beginning, they bring gifts to the table that will help to bring the center to life, like grants writing, and other needs that the MVCA does not have, or even have the time to pursue. We understand that every good vision comes with a cost.

    The MVCA is an catalyst for the mix and will continue to meet the last 2 Mondays of the month at the new center, and hopefully we will see the center open up to new artists, soon, who can teach, inspire and share their talents to make the Creative Canvas, come to life !

    Next Monday, the Mohawk Valley Creative Alliance will meet again, AT THE NEW ARTS CENTER< the CREATIVE CANVAS, to do what it does best, INSPIRE, CREATE and bring the ARTS to life. The challenge of the month is clearly printed on both the blog and FB page has the details, too. Why not "friend" us on FB and get involved? The time, 7:00 pm is very convenient, and perhaps those who keep complaining about all that is or isn't happening could put their fears to rest by KNOWING what the intent of the ALLIANCE is by checking out the meetings. Hope to see you there. Bring your own refreshments, none are served.

    • Tim Becker says:

      Thanks for posting Carol. Please note that *none* of the comments on this article are in any way critical of the MVCA. The criticism is on the City Government end alone. I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t want to see the MVCA succeed. I think it’s very important that you see the distinction.

      The narrative on your web site suggests that obtaining a building has been a main priority for your group. I figured that it would also be your goal to run and maintain that building. If you say it is not, then I believe you, but based on your website, can you can see why I might think that? And that is why I questioned the need for the city government to get involved. I still maintain, I would much rather see an arts center run by a completely independent organization such as the MVCA. But if that is not what your group wants, then that’s the way it is. If you truly believe this is the best option for your group to thrive, then I would support my tax dollars going toward it for that reason (and that reason alone.)

      I’m sorry you are dismayed by the conversation. But frankly, your involvement with the city-run program and being in a city-owned building is going to expose your organization to politics and public opinion. There’s no way around it and I’m sure this will not be the end of it. Just wait until one of your artists displays something offensive or controversial 🙂 That’s why I believe that government and the arts should not be mixed.

  8. bjaycjay says:

    The arts are certainly not an exclusive club, because there is much that is done that might offend, but hopefully the new art center will be a family friendly place, that will be able to be inviting to families, and those who are creating for the sake of creating not for shock value.
    I do agree that the government should not be involved with the conception, and I am keeping my attitude positive, which includes a “wait and see” attitude. If the center is not what appeals to me, I personally will make a fast exit, and retreat to higher ground, where I can continue to encourage and make nice with the people who, like you, want to see the ARTS flourish in this area. Amsterdam has long been a place where artists have created behind closed doors, and now it is time for those doors to open and see what has been hiding.
    Do I hear an AMEN!

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