Mayor Thane let loose with a barrage of criticism a few days ago over an apparent decision by AIDA to cover up the mural on the third floor of the building they own on Main Street. While I have yet to see an official quote from an AIDA representative on the issue, the Recorder ran an editorial the next day stating “AIDA appears poised to go with its original plan to cover up an old painting on the second floor . It’s the right thing to do.”
I’m hoping the old saying “It’s not over until it’s over” will apply here. But here’s why I think AIDA and The Recorder have got it wrong on this.
First – Just because the mural is in disrepair and the artist is unknown, does not mean it has no value. AIDA and the people who collectively write the Recorder Editorials (Kevin McClary, Kevin Mattison and Charlie Kraebel) just don’t seem to understand the value. Now everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and they have every right to share it. But I think it’s important for Amsterdam city residents to understand the perspective the editorial writers have and how that informs their opinions.
A case in point – Charlie Kraebel wrote a nice column back on September 7th about the benefits of living in the Fulton/ Montgomery County region. He talked a lot about the natural beauty of the area – the views of the Mohawk Valley, proximity to the Adirondacks, hiking, fishing, bike riding, as well as the character of the towns and villages. What I got from his column was that he is happy to live in a spot where he is able to enjoy these things that he values on a regular basis. I think that’s a wonderful perspective and I certainly value those things about the region as well.
However, I think it’s somewhat telling when he goes on to call the areas outside of downtown Saratoga Springs a “dump”. When I read that, I thought – if he thinks the city of Saratoga Springs is a dump, what must he think about most of Amsterdam?
I wonder if the editors have ever stopped to think just why a person willingly decides to live in a densely populated city like Amsterdam or Saratoga Springs and deal with all the problems that come along with city life? Or have they thought that maybe the everyday things that people in a city value might be a little different from those who choose to live in the rural areas?
I believe that many of the people who have chosen to live in this city value living in a community that is connected and that shares a common history and culture. Besides economic reasons, why else would we choose to deal with the blight, the vandalism, the noise, etc… ?
So what does this have to do with the mural? Cultural artifacts like the mural, as well as the homes, the buildings, parks, the community organizations and events, etc – all contribute to our cultural identity. It’s not about what the material things are worth on the open market, it’s about what the history and stories behind them say about the people who created them and how that shapes the continuing story of Amsterdam as a city. The mural is valuable because of what it contributes to our identity and culture. And our culture is one of the key “quality of life” reasons I believe people put down roots in a city rather than just visit. And that concept has very big implications when it comes to either the success or failure of our city to revitalize our economy.
To put it another way – what if hypothetically a developer purchases an area of land in Broadalbin, one containing fishing streams and hiking trails, etc, and decides they are going to bulldoze the whole thing to put in a strip mall? Residents would be outraged. They chose to live where they do because of certain things they value, and a reduction in that value is a loss to them. But I personally don’t fish, I don’t go camping. What if I called the controversy “silly” and urged the developer to “get back to work.” Wouldn’t that seem like a slap in the face?
I believe a majority (a slim majority, but a majority nonetheless) of Amsterdam City residents still value our urban culture and want to preserve it. Mayor Thane has championed this cause over the years, and her re-election should be irrefutable proof that this viewpoint is held by more residents than not. I think that the Recorder editors would serve their readers better by trying to understand this concept.
Second – Yes AIDA owns the building, but that does not mean that they have a right to do whatever they want. AIDA is a public benefit organization. It has authority to conduct its own affairs, but it is accountable to the public, and to the Mayor and Council who represent them.
I argued a while back that AIDA lacks the vision, skills and experience for developing our downtown, especially when it comes to developing a small businesses culture which is an essential element. Their strength and success is in managing the Industrial Park and I think they should stick to that. Mayor Thane argued at the time that AIDA was still the best option for overall economic development. I think it’s safe to say her opinion has changed. Should AIDA proceed as planned, I think there will be political consequences, and I predict the Mayor will most likely push for some changes to the makeup of the board and I think she has every right to do so.
If all else fails, I think we should preserve the mural digitally so the artwork could be restored digitally and perhaps reproduced and displayed at the Walter Elwood museum or City Hall or other such venue. Also, if possible, the murals should be covered in a way that does not ruin them, so that potential future developers can restore them if they want.
But if there are viable investors who understand how to capitalize on the cultural value of the mural, then those options need to be seriously considered, and I still hope they can be.