Spotlight on: Theresa Statz-Smith

You never really know what’s in your own backyard until…

For the past two years as its Executive Director for Long Island Arts Alliance (LIAA), Theresa Statz-Smith has made it her goal to shine a spotlight on the cultural arts events that are happening right here on Long Island.  Living in the shadow of a metropolitan city, Long Island arts and culture organizations constantly struggle to promote their own world-class programs.  After commissioning two studies in 2010, one by Dr. Pearl Kamer, Chief Economist for the Long Island Association (LIA) and the other by the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, “Arts On The Edge,” LIAA, a collegial network of the region’s not-for-profit arts and arts education organizations, renewed its commitment to promoting arts, culture and arts education on Long Island.

LIAA’s Arts Alive LI speaks to the heart of LIAA’s mission to showcase Long Island’s word-class arts.  As stated in its October 2012 Business Plan:  “Our quintessential island community is the setting for this multi-venue celebration where all involved share a single vision:  to showcase the many high-quality experiences Long Island has to offer during a month-long celebration of the region’s arts, culture, food and wine.”  Arts Alive LI showcases the superb talent and cultural resources Long Island has to offer while also fostering economic development through the arts and enhancing the quality of life for all local residents. Instead of spending the costly amount of money to take the family to the city to see a play, go to a museum, or attend a concert, locals are now discovering the wealth of cultural arts events that exists right in their own community by simply going to ArtsAliveLI.org.  Theresa offered a sampling of recent events:  Blue Oyster Cult played their first acoustic concert at Landmark on Main Street in Port Washington and the whole community came together.  The village designated an official Blue Oyster Cult Weekend.  Different restaurants created Blue Oyster Cult dishes, Blue Oyster Cult martinis and even a paper company sold special blue stationary.  The whole village of Port Washington came together to celebrate.  Another local Northport Long Islander, Patti LuPone advocated for Arts Alive LI with her personal testimonial attesting the rich offerings right here on Long Island; she and Mandy Patinkin performed at the TillesCenter for the Performing Arts at LIU Post this past October. “Almost all of our Signature Series Events are collaborative,” notes Theresa, “in order to receive the level of promotion as a Signature Series Event we require artists and organizations to create an event that encourages a collection of activities.”  For example, The Islip Arts Council and the Patchogue Arts Council came together and created the South Shore Walking Arts Tour where all these communities had artists’ work hanging in their windows, and scheduled special Festival happenings on different weekends.  “They were taking some events that were already loosely happening and brought it all together as a single event.”

Culture makes places distinctive, engendering pride in the local community.  It also makes a practical contribution in terms of sustainability, providing employment, encouraging learning and inspiring people to adopt creative and active lifestyles.  Through culture, communities are better able to engage young people in constructive activity and attract the people and businesses essential for a prosperous local economy. Theresa talked about how “we’re finding ways to bring us all together.”  She mentioned an early Festival launch event in the East End and invited people from the North and South Forks to share their communal art resources:  “An event like that alone brings people together; it gives people the opportunity to collaborate, to meet, to brainstorm.” Pat Snyder, Executive Director of the East Ends Arts Council at Riverhead created a Maritime Heritage Festival.  She brought her community together and created the Maritime Heritage Festival from Riverhead to Orient Point.  “So, it’s all these communities, all these venues, coming together to create one big Festival happening all month in October with targeted [events] here and there. The Long Island Railroad also came to the table to provide transportation and hang Festival Posters in stations from Penn to the East End; and Media Partner WNET New York Public Television aired Patti LuPone’s promos on both WNET Thirteen and WLIW 21.  LIAA, through Arts Alive LI, helps foster all these regional alliances of people who understand that there is strength when we all join forces. Of course we could not do any of this without the support of Bethpage Federal Credit Union, Long Island Community Foundation, Rauch Foundation and other foundations and individuals who believe in regional collaboration and economic development through the arts.”

Theresa’s passion for the arts is palpable: “What we’re trying to do, looking forward, is that we are highlighting not just the ‘classic’ arts, but we want to bring in a lot of what we’re talking about with our festivals:  the culture, the history, food, and wine – that is what makes Long Island an incredible cultural experience.  And that’s what grows new audiences, and engages young families and children.” Despite these dire economic times, Theresa justifies funding for the arts because it “feeds” our children in so many ways:  How do we inspire and engage that child to stay in school? And to create a life worth living?  What keeps that at-risk child in school:  it’s when they learn to love to sing a song, or play an instrument, or kick a ball.  That keeps an at-risk child at school.”

Theresa talked about one of LIAA’s flagship programs:  Scholar-Artist Awards.  “It’s based on the same idea as the Scholar-Athlete Programs in our high schools where we honor the artist in the school and bring that artist to the level of the athlete.”  In partnership with Newsday, New York Community Bank Foundation, and school districts, high school faculty nominate their top artists for the honor. They must also maintain excellent academics.  “Ultimately, twenty are designated as Scholar-Artists and an additional twenty receive the Award of Merit.  Area universities offer scholarships and there is a big Newsday photo shoot to launch the program and a Gala at TillesCenter closes the program in May.”

What is so transformative about the arts is that it “helps you to think . . . to think in creative ways and look in unexpected places for answers.  It’s critical.”  Case in point on how the arts inform all subject areas, Theresa cited Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.  “You have some of the best scientists in the world there and some of the best art there too.  You will see a Chihuly glass piece hanging in the middle of an incredible lab, and stunning sculptures all over the grounds.  Beautiful artwork!  There are concerts held in Grace Auditorium on the CSHL Campus, and lectures. Smart people know that the arts inspire creativity and creativity is our hope for the future.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: