GLOVERSVILLE - For many years, grant money from the New York State Council on the Arts has been the lifeblood of major public cultural programs in Fulton and Montgomery counties.
From large concerts to small painting workshops, many arts programs are made possible by dollars that originate with taxpayers, are passed down from NYSCA's Manhattan offices to regional arts councils and then distributed to local organizations, municipalities and individual artists.
The way those dollars reach Fulton and Montgomery counties was shaken up about a year ago with the breakup of the Tri-County Arts Council. That agency, based in Schoharie County, was in charge of distributing funds throughout the three counties until state budget cuts and the sheer size of the area made the arrangement too burdensome.
Furniture designer Susy Easterly, left, and Mike Johnson are seen in a mirror created by Easterly during a meet-the-artists
reception Friday night at Micropolis
Cooperative Gallery in Gloversville.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Ackerbauer
Last year, Saratoga Arts, based in Saratoga Springs, took over the administration of state arts grants for Fulton and Montgomery counties.
According to Joel Reed, executive director of Saratoga Arts, each county in the state once had its own arts council, but that arrangement became impractical.
"They've moved toward a regional model rather than a local model," he said. "NYSCA looks for certain markers of administrative stability."
Among the requirements is that each regional agency handling grant programs must have a professional staff, including a full-time director and a separate grant coordinator.
"Tri-County wasn't able to maintain that level of staffing," Reed said.
Saratoga Arts began managing the Fulton-Montgomery Arts Grant program last year, and this year's round of funding already has been awarded. It is handled separately from the other programs Saratoga Arts administers, so applicants from Northville and St. Johnsville, for example, are not competing for the same pool of money as their counterparts in Ballston Spa and Saratoga Springs.
The panel that selected the 2012 F-MAG award recipients was made up entirely of local people with ties to the arts scene in Fulton and Montgomery counties, including Eric Trahan, executive director of the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, and Joel Chapin, a fine arts professor at Fulton-Montgomery Community College who is involved with several community arts groups.
"We are absolutely sensitive to the importance of local knowledge," Reed said.
A steering committee is being formed to continue to develop and organize the F-MAG program, he said.
Focus on creativity
This year, the program awarded 15 local grant awards totaling $32,200. The programs selected were not radically different from those of previous years - they include awards of up to a few thousand dollars each for events such as concerts at town parks and performances at Johnstown's Colonial Little Theatre and Gloversville's Glove Performing Arts Center.
Next year's awards might bring some changes, however, as there has been a refocusing of the vision and values that dictate which programs get funded, Chapin said. That's partly out of necessity, since cultural programs tend to be among the first items slashed from public budgets during challenging economic times.
"We're looking at arts money being trimmed continually," Chapin said. The panelists want to be more selective, with "more of an emphasis on promoting something that's really going to be a creative experience."
This will mean applicants seeking grant money to continue past programs - even popular, familiar favorites - may be passed over for more innovative proposals.
"More original, creative content would be preferred for this grant," Chapin said.
While acknowledging the differences in economy and culture between affluent Saratoga County and its neighbors to the west, he said Reed and his staff at Saratoga Arts have been "very organized and professional" in their handling of the F-MAG program.
"I think they're really interested in getting the maximum money for this area - and increasing people's exposure," Chapin said.
The selection panel wants to see more local groups and individual artists applying for grants this year, he said, so the money can go to support a broader range of opportunities.
Local vs. regional
Not everyone is completely satisfied with the regional arrangement.
Bob Buck of Canajoharie was briefly the president of the Tri-County Arts Council board before it disbanded. He recently helped found the Arts Factory, a group that intends to promote and manage arts programs in western Montgomery County.
"When we heard that the grant process went over to Saratoga, we felt it should come back," Buck said. "We feel we can do just as good a job as Saratoga."
Jessica Murray of the Mohawk Valley Creative Alliance said her group would like to see the grant funding for Montgomery County eventually administered through a unified arts center based in Amsterdam, though she acknowledges such a center would be years in the making.
John Spaeth, president of the Northville-based Sacandaga Valley Arts Network, said his organization has a good relationship with Saratoga Arts so far.
"They're wonderful," he said. "I think we get more attention [from Saratoga Arts] than we did from Tri-County Arts."
SVAN received a $3,000 grant this year for its Music in the Valley concert series. The grant was one of the largest awards in the 2012 round of F-MAG funding, second only to the $4,000 awarded to the Glove Performing Arts Center for its production of "In Darfur," a play about genocide in the Sudan.
Spaeth said he doesn't see a problem with the new focus on increased creative and cultural diversity in the selection process.
"The folks doing the same thing over and over again will have to freshen up their programming," he said. "If you're asking people for money, you have to show them why you're worth it."
To learn more
Informational seminars have been scheduled this summer for those interested in applying for 2013 grant funding, including sessions July 26 in Amsterdam, July 31 in Fonda, Aug. 7 in Canajoharie and Aug. 14 in Caroga.
Saratoga Arts' Joel Reed said the schedule is not final, and more sessions may be added. The applications will be due in September, and the awards will be announced in early 2013.
For more information about eligibility requirements and how to apply, see Saratoga Arts' website at www.saratoga-arts.org.
In a related effort, the New York Multi-Arts Centers Consortium will present a conference Monday at Centro Civico in Amsterdam. The event is billed as a professional-development opportunity for arts administrators.
Assistant City Editor Bill Ackerbauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org