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ON THE SCENE: Does Lake Placid need an arts commission?

May 17, 2019
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Across the nation, communities similar to Lake Placid support and promote their artistic assets as a means of improving the quality of life for residents and attracting visitors. That was the message given by four graduate students from Cornell University's Institute for Public Affairs on Wednesday, May 8 at the Mirror Lake Beach House.

The students were engaged by the Lake Placid/North Elba Development Commission, chaired by Dean Dietrich, to investigate best practices in marketing, governance, structure, funding and strategic planning of a public arts commission. Also, they were asked to recommend how to implement such a program, outline the benefits of public art and make recommendations.

"When we did the 2014 Comprehensive Plan, what came through is that the arts community here is very vibrant, but it may be operating in silos," said Dietrich. "Everybody does their thing in their venues and then moves on. What we don't have is an overall or an over-arching strategy and way to cooperate. We believe that all the arts groups have similar goals. They believe that the arts are important to the community, and they want to promote local artists. Maybe there is something we can do together that can make the arts and our community stronger than them working individually."

Article Photos

From left are Cornell University graduate students Hanxu Wang, Shi Tang, Grant O’Brien and Katherine Long, who gave a presentation to the Lake Placid/North Elba Development Commission Wednesday, May 8 at the Mirror Lake Beach House. They were asked to investigate best practices in marketing, governance, structure, funding and strategic planning of a public arts commission.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

The four students -Katherine Long, Grant O'Brien, Shi Tang, and Hanxu Wang - examined and drew lessons from four communities: Berkshire, Massachusetts; Burlington, Vermont; Ithaca, New York; and Sedona, Arizona. They began by defining public art as anything from murals and sculptures to public performances, and festivals or other artistic events, an example of the latter being the arts and humanities component of the upcoming Winter World University Games in Lake Placid in 2023.

They said the National Association of Counties has determined that the arts can help improve the economy, enrich the local culture, build more aesthetically pleasing communities, promote lifelong learning, and help with historic preservation as well as assisting children to succeed. They also said Americans for the Arts' research has demonstrated that the arts can improve the quality of people's lives regardless of their age or demographics and have a positive impact on the business climate.

They said the arts could be used to help revitalize a community or a neighborhood. As an example, the arts were used to turn one of the worst slums in New York City, "San Juan Hill," the setting for "West Side Story," into one of the most economically dynamic sections of the city through the creation of the Lincoln Center complex.

From Berkshire, Burlington, Ithaca and Sedona they drew several lessons. Both Berkshire and Sedona have used the arts to become major engines for tourism. Berkshire markets their arts activities through social media and nationwide websites as a means of attracting audiences, while Sedona has developed an interactive guide of their galleries, restaurants and other features. Sedona and Ithaca have invested in murals, festivals, monthly artist studio walks and gallery openings with the goal of, in effect, turning their communities into living galleries.

"It's widely understood that tourism allows Sedona to thrive," said O'Brien. "Much of the public art, which the city has made as a priority since day one, is for that very reason funded by locally sourced tax dollars."

Shi Tang described Burlington is the strongest and most successful arts community in our region. She said they have a city-funded arts agency that has created a website that promotes all the arts activities and is used to help raise money for the arts. They had established an internship program to train people in all aspects of arts administration and promotion.

The students said all these communities had an arts commission based either in city government, the tourism office or as a stand-alone with strong partnerships with the government and other agencies.

Several use an occupancy tax to help fund the arts commission along with a 1 percent contribution from the construction costs of public and corporate buildings.

All commissions promote the artistic resources of their community, and all give grants, many to both individual arts and well as local arts agencies. Additional funding can come from city tax revenue, donations by individuals and businesses, and from grants.

Long said Ithaca incorporates the arts into a wide range of community events, be it a conference, sporting event or other activity. Students pointed out as an example the requirements of an arts and humanities component of the upcoming University Games. They said in Sedona, like Lake Placid, the natural environment was a significant draw and suggested that the healing benefits of nature coupled with the arts could help us create a unique message.

They urged that Lake Placid establish a local arts commission. They said it could be developed in partnership with some existing agency such as the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism or the Adirondack North Country Sports Council. The key is including stakeholders from sports, education and tourism, as well as the arts. Students said it is "essential" to have a diverse board. They felt it should not be organized under the umbrella of the Lake Placid Center for the Arts or any other arts agency, as the commission's role would be to promote all the arts. They said it would work in partnership with all arts organizations, with each maintaining its autonomy.

The students said it would take a rigorous planning process over six months to establish and that its first order of business would be developing a marketing strategy to promote what currently exists. They recommended an all-volunteer board and felt it should move toward having paid staff. They said it would need a director, a chief financial officer who coordinates the fundraising effort, and a marketing and social media coordinator.

"I think combining the arts and sports here in Lake Placid could be very powerful," said Long. "Needed is getting a diversity of voices on the arts commission. The goal is to get the arts woven into all aspects of the community through involving different industries."

"I think we need an independent agency that brings everyone together under one umbrella," said Lake Placid/North Elba Development Commission member Georgia Jones.

ROOST CEO Jim McKenna pointed out how popular the artistic globes placed around the village a couple of years ago were, and he said if the proposed expansion of the occupancy tax is approved, the new revenue would be dedicated to a community enhancement fund which he felt is a possible source to help support an arts commission. McKenna and others said an all-volunteer staff was not realistic as everyone is so stretched in their organizations.

"The timing might be very good because of the 2023 World University Games, which has a required big arts component," said town of North Elba Councilman Jay Rand.

"Our goal was to start a dialogue, and we started one," said Dietrich.



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