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/

Women in the Arts

Read FIRST ONLINE WITH FRAN’S interview with Marla Lewis, Long Island’s Grammy-winning songwriter published in the May issue of GEM Magazine!

“I never expected to win a Grammy,” says Wantagh award-winning singer/songer, Marla Lewis.  “I just love to write songs that teach, entertain, and sometimes raise a smile.  I’m really proud of my work.”  Read more…
Gem Magazine Long Island

Sherrie Nickol: Capturing Real People With a Click of her Camera

What started out as an artistic project became the seed for an exciting business enterprise.  Award-winning photographers Sherrie Nickol and David Katzenstein were intrigued by capturing every day people in their every day moments: on the subway, the streets of New York, any location imaginable where ordinary people went about their typical day.  When the economic crisis hit in 2008-2009, the husband and wife team decided to use their recently created cache of studio photos of 100 people and turn it into a commercial venture.  A business plan was drawn up; investors were solicited and they created and launched the stock photo agency Citizen Stock. Today, the real people photographed for the collection number more than 2,500!

CitizenStock was launched in May 2010 as a source of fresh, new Rights Managed stock photography images featuring real people. The models aren’t models at all, but children, moms, dads, grandparents, skateboarders, lawyers, teachers, musicians, chefs, artists, office workers, clothing designers, shop clerks and small business owners, to name a few.

In addition to homegrown New Yorkers, the real people who model for Citizen Stock originate from many parts of the U.S. and from a diverse group of countries all over the world. Photographed against a white background, and in a series of activities and clothing, the real models offer a unique and accessible collection of images for the advertising, design and media industries. Citizen Stock offers a consistent blend of emotion and style and a depth of unique, high quality imagery.

Deriving extreme enjoyment from “taking a good picture of someone,” Sherrie delights in people’s reactions.  She recalled one man who was awed by his picture on the monitor. “Wow, is that me?” he exclaimed.  Using a conversational approach with each of her subjects, Sherrie gets her models to share a great deal about themselves.  “One of the models told me that no one has paid this much attention to him in 20 years!” she said. Impressed with the quality and quantity of photos, the man returned for a repeat session with his two young daughters. Emotionally empowering her subjects by allowing them the opportunity to express themselves in any way they choose, Sherrie often finds herself playing the role of “photo-therapist.”  

And what makes Sherrie special in other respects is that her talent goes beyond her work at Citizen Stock.  Crowd Scapes was an exhibit at Temple University in 2010.  “My husband and I have traveled a lot and done all sorts of photography.  A lot of it has to do with people and their interactions, either being by themselves or with a group of people.”  With each of her works, she hopes to elicit memories, “a special time in their life . . . something warm.”  And this takes skill. Not everybody can be a photographer:  “You have to have an eye.  You have to capture that moment, the shape of the face, or the body or what they’re trying to tell you.”  She is grateful to her teacher, Jerry Stratton at the University of Cincinnati.  “He kept encouraging me.” Eventually, she risked all odds and went to New York to seek her fame and fortune without any knowledge of what that entailed.  Coming from Osceola, Arkansas, a small town, Sherrie didn’t know any better except for the fact that this was the right course for her to follow.  Holding a camera “just felt right. I still receive so much pleasure from taking pictures.”

As for The Arts, Sherrie is adamant about its value:  “Photography is a different kind of art.  It’s a wonderful tool to communicate feelings or emotions…. It’s freeing for people.  Everybody has a story; everybody has a love, a desire. The Arts help you to communicate everything about life from the happy to the very sad.”

And as for Sherrie’s mission, it gives Citizen Stock’s models their 15 minutes of fame…and then some. Click!

Featured in The Wall Street Journal The Wall Street JournalNew York Culture:  The Everyman’s Photo Op

Like Citizen Stock on Facebook!

GEM Magazine April 2012

Olivia Bouler: Taking Flight

Read about why twelve-year-old Olivia Bouler believes The Arts are not only the conduit through which she channels her energy and enthusiasm for her causes, but also a respite for coping with her emerging adolescence.

Gem Magazine Long Islandgemmagazineli.com

Gem is the sparkling new lifestyle magazine for the Long Island woman. Gem is genuine. Gem is engaging, lively and fresh. The Jewel of Long Island.

Marla Lewis: Grammy Winning Songwriter for Kids, Parents, and Teachers

“I never expected to win a Grammy,” says Wantagh Award-winning singer/songwriter, Marla Lewis. “I just love to write songs that teach, entertain, and sometimes raise a smile. I’m really proud of my work.” 

After 25 years of writing songs for adults and children, Marla’s tune, Leap of Faith, became part of a compilation CD called All About Bullies…Big and Small. The CD won a Grammy for Best Children’s Recording.

Leap of Faith is about a timid little girl named Faith who finds her courage.  On the playground she sees a bully push a small kid down. Before she can even think about being afraid she stands up and says, “Cut that out!/Leave that kid alone right now!” Everybody in the playground stops, stares the bully down, and cheers Faith. The bully turns and walks away.  Everyone is jubilant, and Faith discovers how much inner power she has.

 During the course of her career, Marla taught ESL (English-as-a- Second Language) in New York City schools. She utilized her musical talent to teach lessons across the curricula from grammar, to math, to social studies, science, and literacy skills.  For example, to teach irregular plurals Marla created a chant “One Foot, Two Feet” and added movement to act out each body part.  “The combination of aural, visual, and kinesthetic modalities accommodates children’s varied learning styles,” says Marla.  For a kindergarten math lesson, she has the children sing this ditty:  If you know how to count you can add by one.  “I also use folk songs, for example, Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd,to teach kids about slavery, and how the slaves used the North Star to find their way to freedom.” 

Marla uses many of her songs in her original professional development workshops for teachers. One workshop deals with how music and movement facilitate literacy.  Another workshop teaches collaborative songwriting.  “I wrote one of my favorite songs, We Love to Read, with a second grade class! The kids were very excited about learning to read. They were amazed at how those  ‘squiggles on the page’ became letters. We had a magical time working together!”

“You don’t have to be a musician to do this.  You just have to enjoy the music and . . . know how you’re going to use it to teach the lesson.”  This is what classroom teachers do best and to this day Marla’s music is sought out by education practitioners around the country to integrate her songs into lessons of their own invention.

To produce professional quality recordings meant finding resources:  “Funding in the arts is not easy.  I have recorded two albums for kids and they each cost me about $30,000.  I used all live musicians; I didn’t skimp on anything, but I didn’t exactly use a New York City studio, either.”  With the staunch support of a producer, Bob Stander of Huntington, Marla sold over 3,000 CDs, and won Parent’s Choice Awards for both We All laugh in the Same Language (2005) and  I Love to Talk to Plants (2008). 

Although retired from public school teaching, Marla continues to pursue her art by producing videos at home and uploading them to her YouTube channel.  “The Arts are the most positive aspect of man and womankind . . . if we made a time capsule to show another species in space what we’re about, we’d include our greatest achievements, which are our works of art, scientific discoveries, and speeches made by our greatest leaders.  I honestly don’t understand why drama, music, art, and dance are not valued as much as science, math and social studies.” Further, Marla adds, “The arts empower us and give us the ability to make a difference. “

To find out more about Marla Lewis and her music visit her website  “We all Laugh in the Same Language!”