Arts Council has raised two-thirds of the money needed for Screen on the Square

Michael C. Miller, North Country Arts Council president, and Patricia I. Tague look over plans for the Enchanted Gardens arts gala and family day at Thompson Park in the summer of 2011. Photo by Amanda Morrison/Watertown Daily Times.

The North Country Arts Council is only six months and $50,000 away from the construction phase of the Screen on the Square.

The multipurpose facility will bring independent films and local theater to downtown Watertown. It is the biggest project for the council, which is busy preparing for several initiatives this year.

“We are $50,000 short, and we don’t want to borrow,” council board President Michael C. Miller said Saturday before the council’s annual dinner at Maggie’s on the River. “We aren’t eligible for any New York State Council on the Arts grants.”

Although the council is a nonprofit organization, he said, it is not eligible for grants because staff members are not paid.

“We have been around since 1948 and have a 15-person board and hundreds of volunteers,” he said.

The $150,000 Screen on the Square is not intended just as an artsy film house. It also will serve as a distance-learning and telecommuting facility, intimate recital hall and theater. He said he hopes area schools will use it to bolster their humanities curriculum through film.

Mr. Miller said he hopes to attract the types of films that typically are not shown in Watertown: international films, documentaries and independent films.

The first year the Screen on the Square is open, he wants to show winners of major international film festivals. He said he has been working with performance interpreters to ensure those who are hearing-impaired still can enjoy the films and theater performances.

“We’re hoping that by producing that kind of programming that we serve as a Public Square destination,” he said.

Mr. Miller also planned to tell the council’s supporters at the dinner that the organization will create a more user-friendly website, which he said will include “an arts calendar with everything from the tri-county area on it” and a virtual gallery.

“I think it’s going to be an incredibly dynamic site,” he said.

Additionally, the council will be sponsoring the Fourth of July concert in Thompson Park in the future, he said. Rather than hiring Syracuse’s Symphoria to play before the fireworks, he said, it will be going with the Orchestra of Northern New York.

“It will still have the fireworks and the Fort Drum participation,” Mr. Miller said.

He also said he was excited to announce that recent Fiddlers Hall of Fame inductee and north country resident Gretchen P. Koehler will have her own segment in the day’s program.

“We feel strongly that the work we’re doing will add to the community culture in Watertown,” he said.

-Reena Singh, Watertown Daily Times staff writer