WESTPORT — Caroline Thompson’s garden has never looked so good.
Now, she has time for it, her grandchildren and her art — felted vessels and wearables, root and vine sculptural vessels and weaving. These are things she juggled around her former job as executive director of the Arts Council for the Northern Adirondacks.
Thompson lost her job when the New York State Council of the Arts switched the administration of Essex County and southern Franklin County’s Decentralization Grants from the Arts Council to the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts in Plattsburgh.
“We found out we were not going to get DEC (Decentralization Grants administration money) in March,” said Thompson, who had been director since 1986. “We had already committed to many programs. We were trying to fulfill all we had promised to fulfill through the end of summer.”
As funding dwindled, the Arts Council needed money to maintain programming. Like its peers in rural areas, especially being situated in the Adirondack Park, it is a challenge to raise funds to make up the difference, due to lack of businesses, corporate sponsorship and a critical mass of people.
“There was not enough for administration, and that’s when I got laid off at the end of May after 33 years,” Thompson said.
“I was one of the founders in 1980 with seven other organizations in the Champlain Valley: Depot Theater; Wadhams Players; Maplewood Festival; Essex County Historical Society; the Westport Craft Co-op, for which I was a representative; Essex Community Heritage Organization, which is now Historic Essex; and the Elizabethtown Social Center.”
Those organizations banded together for the sole purpose of seeking grants and combining their calendars to avoid same-day programming, which birthed the Arts Directory & Cultural Events Calendar.
Two years ago, the council moved into the Heritage House in Westport. To save money, the council’s office was moved into Thompson’s home.
At the council’s highest peak, it had five employees and a budget between $250,000 to $260,000. When she left, the budget was well under $100,000, and she was the only employee.
“We lost funding to the extent we could no longer support our executive director,” said June Curtis, a Ticonderoga resident who is vice president of the council’s Board of Directors.
“That is a tragedy. (Thompson) is the founder of this organization. She has a very high energy level and has done absolutely extraordinary work in the arts in our region.
“She’s also a very strong advocate for the arts and participated in many of the state organizations and is a strong advocate in Albany and formed networks with our congressional leaders.”
The council serves 140 organizations and more than 300 individuals.
“We have to protect the arts and cultural organizations in our region,” Curtis said. “We will re-tool and do things a little differently. We don’t have the funding or a director. We’re an all-volunteer board.”
The Arts Council is at a crossroads.
“It will go forward with modifications,” Curtis said.
Meetings were held in Saranac Lake, Keene Valley and Elizabethtown to rally support for the council and help set a direction for it.
“Everyone was adamant of continuing the Arts Council because of all the good it has done over the past three decades,” Curtis said. “What I had hoped would be coming from these meetings was something very specific. I was hoping individuals would step forward and say, ‘I have time to work on this board.’ I know that timing is not right for us right now.”
Thompson has forwarded all of her files to the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts. Julie Canepa, the Decentralization Grants coordinator, works from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Canepa was unsure how much money the center would receive for the tri-county region.
“We hope it will be a combination of what we received and what they received,” she said. “But we don’t have the information from the New York State Council on the Arts.
ARTISTS AT RISK
Thompson said she clocked more than 12 hours a week when she only had to focus on Decentralization Grantsgrants for her region.
“She (Canepa) should have more hours,” she said. “At this point, everybody believes in what they’re doing. I wish them well.”
At a recent Ballard Park Concert Series concert, Thompson hung up Arts Council for the Northern Adirondacks signage, greeted attendees and, as a volunteer, handed out the Arts Directory. There are four more performances: Meadowmount on Thursday, Shakespeare in the Park on Friday and Saturday, Arm of the Sea on Aug. 9 and Taylor Haskins Quartet on Aug. 16.
At the conclusion of the series and the Cover Art Show in August, it will be a wrap for Thompson.
“I frankly think they (the state) don’t understand how large an area we have,” she said. “Clinton, Essex and Franklin (counties) are huge. It’s impossible to help all the little fledgling organizations and fledgling artists. The artists that have made it and the large organizations, they’re solid, but they’re feeling these effects.”
Entry-level artists and artists transitioning from amateur to professional are at risk.
“That’s where the Arts Council and arts-service organizations really help,” Thompson said. “If someone in Tupper Lake or Newcomb need a question answered, they’re not going to think to go all the way up to Plattsburgh. That’s my personal concern.
“For the last 33 years, all these organizations we worked so hard to build up, 140 in Essex and southern Franklin counties.
“That’s a lot.”
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