When talking with Michael C. Miller, president of the North Country Arts Council, about the arts in Northern New York, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise. From development of Screen on the Square, the arts council’s latest major project, to celebrating a year in Watertown’s restored Franklin Building, promoting events, garnering membership and planning for the future, Mr. Miller has a lot going on.
But that’s a good thing and he has a lot of skilled help, he’ll tell you. As a longtime supporter of the arts, and a Watertown native, Mr. Miller is passionate about seeing the arts council, and its members, fuel a creative future in the north country.
Mr. Miller grew up in Watertown in the heyday of community-supported arts — when a community concert series packed the newly built auditorium at Watertown High School, and the Avon Theater on Public Square was an arts destination.
“I saw my first opera at the Avon Theater,” he said. “It was a poor rendition of ‘Carmen,’ but it was still a wonderful opportunity.”
Working with a 15-person board of directors, core groups of volunteers and with input from more than 300 members, Mr. Miller and the arts council have a keen grasp on what they would like the future of the arts community to look like.
“The arts council is taking our role very seriously as a council responsible for sharing information for all groups,” he said. “We want to be a catalyst for other people’s creativity in whatever medium they choose.”
Promoting creativity and supporting the artists who help feed the success of organizations like NCAC throughout Northern New York is a sentiment echoed across the region, from Watertown to the river community of Clayton and into the throws of St. Lawrence County at the St. Lawrence County Arts Council.
Hilary M. Oak is the executive director of the St. Lawrence County Arts Council.
“We restarted the organization 10 years ago and I’ve certainly seen the appreciation of our local artists increase throughout that time,” Ms. Oak said. “We have more than 600 members and we’re growing all the time. The arts council represents more than 300 artists in our gift shop as well.”
Ms. Oak makes it clear that the purpose of arts organizations is to support the arts community, not to capitalize on it.
“We promote the arts, we realize we have incredible talent and we want to help the artist be successful in marketing their work not only within St. Lawrence County, but exporting it beyond our county,” she said.
Both the St. Lawrence and North Country arts councils are in the midst of major projects that will expand the array of performances, films and events open to those looking for something a little different.
“The arts council is working with Clarkson University to develop downtown Snell Hall in Potsdam into a multi-arts center,” Ms. Oak said. “We have studios in old Snell Hall, a dance studio and pottery studio for classes; but we hope to have the addition of more theater performances open to the public by renovating that space.”
Ms. Oak said the arts council and Clarkson are in the process of establishing funding, resources and staffing to ensure that the expansion of offerings at Snell Hall will be sustainable.
“In these economic times, it’s difficult to develop large projects,” she said. “The development of Snell Hall was something that was considered part of the economic development plan for the north country. It is on the radar for long-term development.”