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  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.”

First Online With Fran Pilot Episode

The pilot episode of First Online With Fran with featured guest, Angelina Fiordellisi is posted on The Cherry Lane Theatre’s website. Take a look and learn more about The 15th Anniversary of The Mentor Project…

Pilot Episode: First Online With Fran with Angelina Fiordellisi

“I think that one of our greatest responsibilities as theater providers,” asserts Angelina Fiordellisi, “is to sensitize the tribe . . . deepening our primal connections, our primal needs, our primal impulses and what Shakespeare calls ‘holding the mirror up to society’.” This poignant insight is particularly significant since the tragic course of events this past week in Newtown, Connecticut.

On November 19th, 2012 First Online With Fran featured Artistic Director and founder of the Cherry Lane Theatre, Angelina Fiordellisi. Listen to her reflect on the work at the Cherry Lane Theatre, most notably the 2013 Mentor Project, among others, and how they contribute to cultivating an urban artist colony, honor its ground-breaking heritage, create theater that illuminates contemporary issues and transforms the human spirit.

First Online With Fran was shot and edited by The New York Film Shop, Andrea Bertola, Artistic Director.


Opera Night Gala

Opera Night Gala

An Opera Night Gala fundraiser will take place October 28th, Sunday 4:00-6:30 at 270 Main Street, Northport. $20 contribution Entertainment includes Opera, Operetta, Musical Theater, Refreshments, Raffles, etc. Celebrate the Fall Harvest (with some Halloween!)

For tickets, go to

Isabella Eredita Johnson: Founder & Director of Opera Night Long Island

Food for the Soul:  A Night At the Opera!

Where there’s a venue there’s a way to make opera affordable and accessible to local communities.  “Our goal,” says founder and Director Isabella Eredita Johnson of Opera Night Long Island, “is to foster the production and appreciation of opera and chamber music by bringing together Long Island’s finest singers, chamber musicians, and costume designers.  Since its first offering six years ago at Northport’s Café Portofino, Opera Night has attracted audiences of two-hundred or more.  Although it could never replace The Metropolitan Opera in New York City, it does allow people of all ages to experience live performances of opera talent right in their backyard without the hassle and cost of traveling to Manhattan.  Fans range from celebrity moms to teenagers; in fact, Newsday featured Opera Night in a news article that included a picture of a group of teens eagerly engaged in the performance.  This publicity drew throngs of curious spectators to squeeze into the tiny cafe space prompting the local Fire Marshall to issue a code warning! What seemed to be a closed door, a new one opened! 

St. Paul’s Methodist Church of Northport opened their auditorium facility to the fledgling group. To keep expenses and maintain budget line costs venues such as churches, libraries, and schools are affordable; however, the locations are not limited to Northport.  “We’re now in Oyster Bay…at this point where’s there’s a venue with a quality piano, where there’s an audience, there’s opera!” declared Isabella.

And quality is a primary concern to the organizers of Opera Night. As an emerging not-for-profit arts organization they face many challenges; however, a lack of talent is not one of them. “And there is great talent out here,” assures Isabella, “not just in the town of Northportand Huntington, but also the south shore in Nassau Countyto a Westchester Opera group seeking a performance site.”  Opera Night not only affords both performers and audiences to listen to beautiful music, but also gives singers a chance to use the congenial setting to try out new pieces for a Festival, or practice for opera auditions in the city.  Assistant Director, Maddalena, “Maddie,” Harris, shared a local success story, Lauren Haber who “started six years ago at Portofinomay have been a little nervous, but a lot of times she couldn’t come on Friday [evenings] because of her work schedule.” With the persistence and support of her opera peers, Lauren will be traveling this summer to Siena, Italyto perform a fully staged performance of a title role Suor Angelica. “We’ve seen her make this transformation and now has the confidence to pursue her dream.” This is how The Arts can help people find themselves; in fact, Maddie learned hidden talents of her own as a result of this art experience.  People who could not make the twice-a- month shows wanted to be kept in the loop, as it were; so, through Isabella’s urging, Maddie created an opera newsletter detailing the highlights of that particular evening.  “I never really fancied myself a writer…but opera touches my heart, my soul. When we see how opera can touch the people that come to us then it elevates it; it’s just the pure aesthetic of listening, along with the drama, and the personality, [that] make it a complete package for people to come.” Isabella recalled a father/voice major who had to relinquish his love of singing to support his family as a carpet salesman.  His wife saw that his life was not complete.  Until he found Opera Night.  Now he could sing, sell his carpets, raise his family, and have the joy of singing opera!  A happy ending for both wife and family!

Mariah Stein, Summer Intern for Opera Night Long Island can add her personal testimony of how The Arts changed her life. Completing her first year at Boston Universityas public relations major, Mariah was mesmerized by the “awesome talent” she witnessed on Friday nights.  She marveled at the ability of those who could not only hit those high notes, but also do it in front of an audience!  “I like watching the opera singers sing because it’s kind of crazy to be able to do things like that.  It’s insane that they can hit those notes.  That’s what interests me about it.  Just to see people with talent like that; I wish I could do that! I can’t, but it’d be cool if I could.”  Since she doesn’t consider herself to be among those rising stars, she doeswant to contribute to the cause.  “I want to get more experience with how I can use the social media, talk to people about [Opera Night], and meet people through doing things that will [raise awareness].”  There are many young people out there who are interested in opera and don’t know about this project.  Her talent and skills will be put to use to reach out to new audiences – both young and old through Facebook, Twitter and other public relation resources.  Besides doing the mundane work of cataloging and organizing mailing and contact lists, Mariah will also be creating a fund raising event in September.  Opera lessons, travel expenses, conservatory tuitions are all costly.   The Opera Night board feels that it’s important that their cause remains to be focused on singers.  Particularly the up and coming singers who are fresh out of college and/or conservatories.  Some have a need to fly to Europeto audition for a Festival.  A fund raising event will address this need among others.  More details below…

As for the vision of Opera Night Long Island, an opera house is part of the plan, but “rather than get so consumed with the whole marketing business end, “ Isabella feels  that they are meeting their stated goal:  “We’re doing the concerts.  We’re doing the music.  We’re having fun.”  It’s a journey that will eventually coalesce to be a complete work of art with Long Island’s own Opera House.

So, how does Opera Night dispel the clichéd notion of a fat lady wearing a Viking hat waiting to sing? Perhaps, due to her Neapolitan background, Maddie challenged this stereotype:  “We have singers introduce their arias to the audience. And that makes it real to the people. And that there’s a story [to tell]. And it is that story and what artists try to communicate [that brings The Arts] to life.”  And so, to those naysayers who say that the arts are an amenity or that opera is fine for you, but not for me, Opera Night Long Island would say:  “Opera is food for the soul.  It’s sustenance.  And it gives us meaning.  Without music there would be a very drab, one-colored world.  [Opera] is color!”