Heating up the Summer with Live Entertainment! An Interview with Diana Cherryholmes, Executive Director of the Huntington Arts Council

The image of a seven-year old dancing and mimicking the movements of Sol Y Sombra Spanish Dance Company on the grass at the Chapin Rainbow Stage is something Executive Director, Diana Cherryholmes of the Huntington Arts Council (HAC) will always remember:  “That’s what we’re about:  giving people these opportunities to sit and connect [in a way] that indoor venues do not permit.”  For the past 15 years, Diana has committed her talent and expertise to the Huntington Arts Council beginning as its Program Director.  “My heart is always with the Summer Arts Festival and making sure that we bring high quality variety of performances every summer.’  

And this summer’s festival series is hotter than ever!
As one of its goals, the Festival brings performances that people have never heard of and might not consider attending. As a guest of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultured Affairs, administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts, in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, noori, one of Pakistan’s top pop bands will be performing on the Huntingtonstage and at The Kennedy Center. Making bold choices are guided by consistent audience attendance (last summer’s numbers were over 59,000 individuals), Diana is assured that they’ll come because “they believe in what we do and they know that we always bring quality [performances].”
The scope of the summer series is vast and rich in range:  everything from Cuba Gooding & The Main Ingredient to Bethany & Roofus Roots Quartet, an evening of American roots, Haitian Rhythms and African Desert blues, to La Bottine Souriante, a group who first appeared on the Quebec music scene in 1976 and is a living legend of French North American roots music. To fulfill its goal of bringing performances that are produced locally the Festival includes such favorites as Plaza Theatrical Productions of The Producers, The Huntington Community Band, the Long Island Dance Consortium, Curtis Haywood, Winner of HAC’s 2012 “Got Talent? Long Island,” and Broadhollow Theater Company’s Guys & Dolls.  Partnering with other Huntington arts organizations provides the community with choices that don’t conflict with each other; rather, they coalesce into an abundance of rich arts experiences: “Collaboration is very critical in this day and age. As long as there is a demand, then that brings greater benefit and the pie can grow larger.  We’re not fighting for our quarter slice; we just won’t do that.  The pie just gets bigger.”
Nevertheless, even though arts organizations value fluidity and creativity the challenge remains for them to be solvent. With the spiraling trend of cutting funds to the arts, the Huntington Arts Council  faced similar slashes.  Most recently, Huntington TownSupervisor Frank Petrone cut art funds from the budget only to reinstate them once the community expressed their objections:  “The Town of Huntingtonbelieves in The Arts and The Huntington Arts Council for 49 years, and I’m very thankful that they put it back.”  To offset this world of “diminishing dollars,” Diana implemented strategic planning to keep the business of The Arts running.  For example, Got Talent? Long Island  which promotes the wealth of local talent became a successful fund raising event. Innovative thinking such as this is critical for organizations to succeed in the “new normal.” The Bethpage Federal Credit Union sponsors the Arts in Education Program that allows partnership with seven school districts. The executive director of the New York State Council on the Arts states that “we’re doing more with less; now, we’re doing less with less.”  Grants close to $200,000 each year fund Nassau and Suffolk Counties to artists, individual artists, and organizations.  Viewed as a small business, the Huntington Arts Council provides entertainment for the community as well as economic benefits from “ordering office supplies, to hiring staff, to buying a slice of pizza for lunch as an employee.”
The eye is always kept on the prize:  The Arts instill a love of beauty and culture in our world and makes us capable of doing extraordinary things.  Case in point, an intern was always interested in art particularly comics and is now employed at DC Comics.  Another intern completed her Masters degree at School of Visual Arts.  “High Arts” is another opportunity for young people to exhibit their work.  Newly designated Huntington Arts Council’s Pubic Relations representative Dana Rutson recollected a young woman who as a result of this experience realized the next phase in the pursuit of her career:  “It served as an inspiration,” said Dana.  Despite attending art gallery shows, it became an “aha” moment for her:  she could continue to present her work at future exhibits. Unfortunately, training programs have been cut to accommodate the “less is less” mantra; however, other organizations offer enrichment such as the Art League of Long Island and The Huntington School of Fine Arts. “Whether somebody stays in the arts it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is what they’re getting out of this experience and how it can help them achieve their next step in life to get to wherever they want to go whether it’s a teenager or a 50-year-old woman.”  The Huntington Arts Council prides itself as being a “community of collaborators.”  They have certainly proved the mettle of their worth.  Visit their website.  Lend your support of The Arts and make a difference in your life and the lives of your family and have a hot time in the town tonight.  You’ll be glad you did.
To find out more about the Summer Arts Festival and The Huntington Arts Council visit their website at http://www.huntingtonarts.org/