THE STRAND CENTER FOR THE ARTS is a North Country treasure that, like other arts organizations, felt a dramatic impact from the pandemic. Tom McNichols, current president of the Strand’s Board of Directors, commented on its present situation stating, “The Strand is okay because of a lot of hard work behind the scenes. Going forward we will be alright because the community has rallied around us and will continue to do so in order for the arts to survive.”
With no safe way to bring people into theatres and galleries, the arts took a significant financial hit during the pandemic. The Strand coped by going digital, a platform that will continue thanks to a sizeable grant from the Charles Wood Foundation to build out a permanent streaming platform to offer programs and inspire people anywhere in the world.
As the impact of the pandemic has waned, the Strand has been busy rolling out new events. Gallery displays showcasing the works of area artists are on-going. Monthly artisan markets have taken over Brinkerhoff Street and classes for adults and children are bringing people from across the North Country to downtown Plattsburgh. Free Jumpin’ in July outdoor concerts resumed and a partnership between the Strand and Mountain Lake PBS is providing exciting presentations for children.
What has been missing are live performances in the beautiful Strand Theatre, but that will change this fall. The Strand has inked an ongoing collaboration with Burlington based Higher Ground and its parent company Crothers Brothers Entertainment. The first show on the docket is Post-Modern Jukebox, a group long sought but now landed due to the new relationship. “It’s time to put butts in seats,” McNichols commented with a smile.
The Strand’s new Maker’s Space, on the second floor of the Arts Center at 23 Brinkerhoff Street was funded by a grant from the Downtown Revitalization Initiative and is one of the most promising aspect of its reopening efforts according to McNichols. With new digital drawing tablets in a fully outfitted computer lab, a large format giclee photo printer, laser cutters and engravers, CNC routing and wire bending and both filament and resin 3-D printing machines, the space is designed to aid aspiring North Country entrepreneurs and anyone who would like to experiment in digital mediums from design to production. These spaces will function as a hybrid between membership, classes and open public sessions of introduction.
The balance of the Art Center’s second floor includes a dedicated music room and a drawing/painting studio that flexes as general classroom use. The newly renovated area will be a place for people from all walks of life to come together to explore their passions, create and collaborate.
The Center’s first floor will continue as a gallery where exhibitions and rotating events will take place. The Center’s basement currently houses a clay studio that offers a half dozen potting wheels and kilns for those interested in developing their skills and will soon also feature a complete print studio. People have already taken advantage of these studios and some are selling their products through Etsy.
When it comes to inspiring and expanding the North Country’s art scene, McNichols confidently remarked, “What’s our game plan? Everything.”
As VP of Marketing and Business Development at the North Country Chamber of Commerce/Adirondack Coast Visitors Bureau, Kristy Kennedy’s job is to support and create activities– some sponsored by the Chamber and other put on by area businesses and organizations—that will entertain local residents and attract visitors to the area.
When the U.S. Canada border closed and the tourism industry collapsed during the pandemic, the chamber extended its marketing reach to points south, east and west. Kennedy acknowledged the effort was a gamble with an uncertain payoff. Would people venture out of their homes and show up at local businesses’ doorsteps? Luckily, they did. Kennedy explained, “I was completely amazed by what everyone was able to do, from pivoting to offer curbside pickup to going digital.”
Now, as the country comes out of pandemic- induced hibernation Kennedy is cheerleading efforts to appeal to virtually every interest. Area activities abound for outdoor recreation; museums and forts; parks and beaches; wineries, breweries and distilleries. Whether you want to shop, dine, stay, take a day trip or a cooking class, visit a working farm or orchard, gamble, or enjoy the area’s arts and culture, Kennedy is proud of the experiences and offerings that are available.
Through the Chamber’s on-line website or its stop-in information center on Route 9 just north of Plattsburgh, you will find news about music festivals, golf tournaments, classic car shows, historic lecture series, bike rides, SUNY Plattsburgh’s Art Galleries, the North County ballet, and the area’s annual Mayor’s Cup.
Some of the events that create the greatest buzz in the region are those on Lake Champlain. Five fishing tournaments bring thousands of anglers and their families to the area each summer and offer opportunities for local people to participate vicariously. The East Coast Watercross Race, featuring See-Doos from across the eastern U.S., took off from the Plattsburgh City Beach at the end of July to the excitement of adults and children.
“It has taken time to put together so many experiences and offerings,” Kennedy observed, “but they have allowed us to grow as a destination. We chose to view the pandemic pause not as a setback, but rather as an opportunity to sit back and reconfigure programs, plans and goals. We have achieved what we set out to do.“ After 18 months of physical and social distancing there is light at the end of the tunnel. The future for arts and activities in the North Country is bright is people are eager to make up for lost time. Enjoy your summer and don’t miss the opportunities available all around you.