An observer outside 116 E. Third St., Jamestown might not see a whole lot of activity.
The Arts Council for Chautauqua County's doors don't open hundreds of times each day. Artists don't always walk in and out, spreading their crafts within the building. Students don't always stop in to learn about art. Community members and students do frequent the building's 3rd on 3rd Gallery, but other signs of activity are few and far between.
It may not look like the council has an active impact on the local arts community. However, those who dig deeper into the Arts Council's behind-the-scenes work will learn otherwise.
Jason Sample, WRFA-LP public affairs director, works at his desk in the Arts Council for Chautauqua County building. WRFA is one of many organizations under the Arts Council umbrella.
P-J photo by Scott Shelters
Formed in 1979, the Arts Council grew into a countywide agency providing services to arts organizations and artists within five years. The organization works to provide an environment where the arts thrive, recognizing a community which encourages, supports and fosters the arts, and empowers its citizens to think, work and live creatively.
The council houses WRFA-LP and the aforementioned 3rd on 3rd Gallery. Most of the Arts Council's impact on the community happens outside its doors, however.
"Sometimes I don't think people understand all that is happening at the Arts Council," said Judith Guild, Arts Council Board president. "People are surprised when you begin to list the number of programs the Arts Council provides."
ARTS IN EDUCATION
The council's Arts in Education program has been running for 20 years, broadening in scope over time. Programs are offered at Jamestown, Sherman and Falconer schools through the Arts Council.
"Our Arts in Education is a very strong part of the services we provide," Guild said. "Most of the artists we employ go to the schools. We facilitate bringing the artists into the classroom. Each artist offers their specialties, their crafts, to the schools."
The council offers short- and long-term in-school programs, including artist residencies. Afterschool Arts Council programming also takes place out in the community, including activities at the Boys and Girls Club. Since February 2009, the club has offered afterschool art activities with 21st Century Community Learning Center funding.
Through a media program, students learn the ins and outs of radio and videography equipment. They record commercials and public service announcements, including a spot on the dangers of texting and driving that gained airplay on Buffalo radio stations. The students also record podcasts. They've made short films and are starting a video on the Boys and Girls Club.
The students take trips to the WRFA studio to see radio firsthand. Two students have landed part-time jobs at radio stations since the creation of the class.
"The kids absolutely love it," said Diane Maynard, of the Boys and Girls Club. "Unless they get the videography and art in school, these are opportunities they wouldn't have otherwise. They're experiencing things together that they wouldn't have the opportunity to do otherwise. They have a lot of fun. It's a great experience. We love the Arts Council."
The club hosts other courses, including one utilizing African drums. The course teaches students more than how to make music, according to Maynard.
"They're working together as a team," she said. "They're learning communication skills."
An artist-in-residence works with students on all sorts of artistic mediums at the Boys and Girls Club. They make jewelry, kaleidoscopes and more after school.
In addition to its Arts in Education programs, the Arts Council provides artists with health insurance and writes grants for smaller arts organizations.
"The Arts Council always wants to collaborate with other arts organizations," Guild said. "To be honest, in this day and age, you have to do that to survive. All organizations right now are hoping their funding continues. We are always looking for ideas for projects, and we're also looking for ways to help other organizations."
The Arts Council collaborates with Infinity Visual and Performing Arts Inc., in addition to other organizations. Infinity started out as an Arts Council organization before branching out on its own. The Arts Council gets programs, such as Infinity, going and then releases them.
"I think that's a great model to have," Guild said. "Infinity is thriving now and really making a difference in the community."
WRFA has found its way into the community in a couple of ways. Station employees have a long-term residency in Jamestown High School, and the "Woodsongs Coffeehouse Radio Hour with Ken Hardley" is recorded live monthly at the Labyrinth Press Company at 12 E. Fourth St., Jamestown. The show features live interviews with local and touring performing artists. The monthly guests also perform. Admission to each live recording is free.
"My personal experience with the 'Woodsongs Coffeehouse Radio Hour' is testimony to the unique offerings the Arts Council makes possible," Hardley said. "This is not a show that could have been introduced to the area public in any way other than through WRFA-LP FM. The ongoing commitment and hard work of this Council have assured that the literary, musical, intellectual, creative, artistic and educational needs of our county are nurtured and well-served. We, in Chautauqua County, are very fortunate that the Arts Council not only exists, but maintains a very active and engaged presence in the community."
CHANGING THE ARTS SCENE
When the 3rd on 3rd Gallery opened in January 2011, artists gained another venue to display their works. Community members gained access to a streetside gallery featuring the works of local and traveling artists.
Active Artists Alliance began working with the Arts Council prior to the opening of the 3rd on 3rd Gallery. When the gallery opened, life became easier for Active Artists Alliance. When planning shows, the organization no longer has to search for a gallery.
"It's made it incredibly easy for us to organize shows," said Bill Thomas of Active Artists Alliance. "It's allowed us to have more shows right downtown. It's easy, affordable, convenient space to use right downtown. It's helped to bring focus right downtown instead of throughout the county, which is where it makes sense I think."
The organizations worked together to fill the new space, beginning in January 2011 when more than 130 people attended the opening night of the gallery's inaugural exhibition: "All Decks on Hand." The exhibition, which will return in June to coincide with Go Skateboarding Day, is a collaboration between the Arts Council, Active Artists Alliance and Suburban Blend.
Once again this year, exhibit organizers have sent skateboard decks throughout the nation. Artists will paint and modify them, sending the decks back to be displayed in the gallery. Other downtown events will happen in collaboration with the exhibition.
The relationship between Active Artists Alliance and the Arts Council will continue on some level in the future, according to Thomas, who has worked closely with Len Barry, Arts Council program coordinator.
"We could do it without them, but the whole thing works a lot better with their collaboration," Thomas said.
Deb Eck has worked on exhibits at the 3rd on 3rd Gallery, including the recent "Women Create." Working with the gallery has allowed her to meet members of the local arts community after moving to the area.
"The Arts Council has been there to support and encourage me as my career has grown," she said. "We have a big, vibrant arts community in this region, and I think the Arts Council provides a public outlet for many of those voices."
Eck described the space as both "very Jamestown" and "very urban" at the same time. She said the gallery is unique because it hosts such a wide range of art.
"As an artist who works primarily in three dimensions and with large-scale installation work, it presents a local venue for my own work that just hasn't really existed until now," Eck said. "I think it will provide a way to host much more contemporary work in a wider range of media than has been locally possible outside of the Weeks Gallery at JCC. I think the location is also special. It is a space where it will be possible to create the kind of urban art events usually experienced only in larger cities. I am personally really excited by the possibilities."
For the first time in many years, the Arts Council Board has organized fundraisers in 2012.
An event called "Art in a Bottle" will be held in June. A bus will take people to three art studios, three wineries and a restaurant along the Lake Erie Art Trail.
Another fundraiser will be a casino night at Reg Lenna Civic Center in June. People will have the opportunity to play games while making a donation to the Arts Council.
Finally, there will be a cardboard boat race in August featuring individuals and teams.
"All three of the fundraisers are new to the Arts Council, and we're very excited about those," Guild said.
The Arts Council has a fairly new board, according to Guild. Its members have helped make the fundraisers possible.
"(The board members) are eager to support the arts in the community and are working diligently to make the Arts Council a good organization in the county," Guild said. "Fundraising is an important element of a board. We can do all we can to get grants, but the bottom line is we always need more support."
The Arts Council plans to continue focusing on providing programming and services for artists and children. Community support will be needed to help the council make that happen.
"Our goal is always to answer the needs of the community and to keep our organization thriving," Guild said. "I just can't even imagine a community without an umbrella organization like the Arts Council. We not only deliver programs, but we also provide services. We're a very diverse organization, and I think that makes for a very exciting organization."