Thursday, April 30, 2009

Catherine Wilson.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Catherine Wilson, Bureau Chief
Northern Westchester

Low-Budget Fun In Westchester

Last week the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that the global economy was not expected to recover from the current recession until mid-2010. A local international corporation, International Business Machines (IBM) in Armonk, also announced last week that it would be laying off up to 5,000 employees, many of them in the Hudson Valley region.

Witnessing neighbors losing their jobs and their homes, most Westchester residents are reacting to the grim news by tightening their belts. With so much bad news, the last thing on most people’s minds is having a good time in the midst of it all. But a group of feisty Westchester residents reacted to the grim news of our economy last week by kicking up their heels, literally. The “Arts Westchester”, a local non-profit arts council,
hosted an “Irish House Party” at their facility in White Plains complete with professional Irish step dancers, fiddlers, and Irish cuisine.

For several hours, over 50 hardy residents forgot their economic woes and concentrated instead on learning the intricate steps of the group dances,
swinging their partners around the floor of the Arts Exchange, a restored neo-classical bank building on Mamaroneck Avenue.

Participants had been invited to the traditional Ceilidh to “witness the agility and passion” of these typical Irish social gatherings, a passion that was evident and contagious among those attending. According to Jim Ormond, Communications Manager of the Arts Westchester “Irish music is cheerful and lively, and the basic steps can be learned easily.”

The event was priced affordably for these difficult economic times. Tickets were only $15, $10 for students, seniors and Arts Council members; a complete Irish dinner of Shepherd’s pie and corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes, was only $5 more. Area restaurants and brewers offered their wares, promoting the local economy. Captain Lawrence Brewing Company of Pleasantville showcased their brews and Tighe’s Tavern of White Plains provided the food.

But it wasn’t just the cuisine that was on display. Several renowned Westchester musicians, among them fiddlers Brian Conway and John Whelan
and pianist Brendan Dolan, and several of their talented students, provided the evening’s entertainment.

According to Ormond the event was “an invitation to the Westchester community, regardless of heritage, to enjoy and participate in the house
party atmosphere with some of the finest performers living and working in the region”.

The Arts Westchester is the largest non-profit art council in all of New York State. The council provides arts programs and services, fund concerts, exhibitions and plays, and brings artists into area schools and community centers. Its dedicated purpose is to “weave the arts into the fabric of Westchester life, strengthen the county’s cultural institutions, and enrich the quality of life for all of Westchester’s residents”.

Among their partners is the Greenburgh School District which is working with Arts Westchester to incorporate arts into all elementary grade levels,
from kindergarten to eighth grade, to support the District’s International Baccalaureate curriculum.

According to the Greenburgh School District “the program brings artists into classrooms throughout the district”. Arts Westchester also provides
a “Summer Youth Photography Job Training Program”. The six-week program notes that it gives local students an “opportunity to learn the basics of photography and organize an exhibition of their work”.

Arts Westchester also offers grants for an array of cultural activities and exhibitions. A “Basic Program Support Grant” application is available on the Arts Westchester website, These grants give financial support to organizations that provide a full season of cultural events and activities.

Other grants offered are a JPMorgan Chase Capacity grant for small and mid-sized arts organizations operations, an Arts Partners grant for local arts-in education interdisciplinary and integrated studies of arts and arts subjects, and Arts Alive Artist and Project grants to
promote direct support to area artists and community cultural programs.

The Arts Westchester sponsors all types of arts events throughout the year. They followed up the Irish House Party with an Opera Concert on April 24th. Billed as “Viva La Musica Bella”, the night hosted “memorable and popular musical selections from opera and musical theater”.

The musical selections included works from Bizet’s Carmen, Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, Puccini’s La Boheme, Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, Bernstein’s Candide, Lee’s Man of LaMancha, and Verdi’s Rigoletto.

New Rochelle Opera’s Georgianna Pappas accompanied soprano Samantha Grenell-Zaidman, mezzo-soprano Malena Dayen, baritone Ross Benoliel from Career Bridges as well as fellow New Rochelle Opera performers soprano Roseanne Ackerley, tenor Jin Hwan Byun, and baritone Lawrence Harris.

On May 1st, the council will be showcasing contemporary works by new choreographers in their “New Dance Downtown” event. According to Ormond “Acclaimed Choreographer Peter Pucci will be presenting a new work performed by students of Manhattanville College”. Pucci
has received numerous awards for his works, among them the “Arts-Westchester 2009 Artist Award”, a Drama Desk nomination for Best Choreographer of the Year, and an Absolut Joffrey Award for Choreography.

Other choreographers will showcase their works as well on May 1st, Sidra Bell, the winner of the Bessie choreography award from the Dance Theater Workshop, Jessica DiMauro, a 2007 recipient of an Arts Alive grant from the Westchester Arts Council, and Mariah Steele, the winner of the 2009 Emerging Artist grant from Green Street Studios.

According to Ormond, each choreographer at this event will “present a piece in the style that best exemplifies the work that they do”. Young students are encouraged to attend this event; they will be admitted free with a paying adult.

Following that performance, the Arts Exchange will host what will easily be a most memorable event. On May 2nd, the Tribes Hill folk group will celebrate the 90th birthday ofTribes Hill member Pete Seeger.

The featured performers will be Anthony daCosta, Fred Gillen Jr., Matt Turk, Kathleen Pemble, KJ Denhert, and Steve Kirkman. According to the event’s announcement, “many of the musicians have long-term associations with this elder statesman of American folk music, having performed and collaborated with Seeger at concerts, festivals, and on various social justice projects.

The Tribes Hill musician’s collective has approximately 100 active musician members throughout the Hudson Valley. On the first Monday of every month, a group of the musicians gather at Hammond House in Valhalla, “to share a potluck dinner as well as each other’s songs”.

The “Tribe” evolved at this historic meeting place where George Washington was nearly captured during the American Revolution. The Arts Exchange will also be previewing the first ever Tribes Hill songbook for sale at this event, dedicated to Pete Seeger.

The council views this event as a “warm-up for Seeger’s 90th Birthday extravaganza the following following day, May 3rd, at Madison Square Garden”. The celebration at the Garden is expected to be a star-studded affair; in contrast, Westchester residents can attend an honorary event for Seeger at a far more convenient locale, and at far less expensive ticket prices!

Area residents, potential students, and just plain lovers of the arts can contact the Arts Westchester at or 914-428-4220 for more information about upcoming events. Or just stop by their beautiful building at the corner of Mamaroneck Avenue and Martine Avenue, officially renamed “Arts Avenue” by the City of White Plains.

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