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Catskill Shifting Focus To Arts And Culture

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer looks out on the Catskill Creek on the Lumberyard Contemporary Performing Arts Center site.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer looks out on the Catskill Creek on the Lumberyard Contemporary Performing Arts Center site in Catskill, NY ( Sep 21, 2017 )

A Catskill resident has a vision for the future of arts in the Greene County village.

In mid-September, the Catskill Village Board heard a proposal from Robert Tomlinson to augment the region's budding reputation as a center for arts and culture.

Tomlinson , who is director of the Catskill Mountain Foundation's Gallery and Bookstore in Hunter, says the village is at what he calls "a very interesting turning point."    "Like many small villages it went through a very difficult time after 2007. So  its kind of reassembled itself to be a village that is heavily dependent on and enthusiastic about the creative economy."

Tomlinson would like to see Catskill defined as "a village of makers." He foresees an arts district, with Catskill one day hosting an annual festival and partnering with a "sister city" to promote cultural exchanges.   "Creative implies 'artistic only,' and in fact, 'creative' has a much bigger umbrella than that. So the plan that I'm presenting, along with many other people, is to preserve what has organically happened in the Village of Catskill over the last 7 to 10 years, coming to peak really in the last two years. So if we go back 40 years, we start with the Greene County Council For The Arts, its starting on Main Street in Catskill. About 8 or 9 years ago you have the Bridge Street Theatre coming in. In the last two years, you have the Lumberyard, you have the creation of HiLo Cafe Bar and Gallery, you tend to see with the Magpie Bookshop, a galvanizing of things going on downtown that are involving and encompassing the bloat of creativity which is really about imagination."

Tomlinson would like to boost the local creative economy as part of a 25-year arts and culture centered Comprehensive Plan for the village. He says village officials have been open-minded and supportive. His plan includes creating an arts district that would foster tax incentives that could be used to develop "live and work" spaces.

Greene County's Director of Economic Development and Planning Karl Heck points out that the village of about 4,000 residents is already on a path toward a "creative economy."   "The ForeLand project on Water Street will be coming online next year which is a 50,000 square foot make space for creative economy folks, right behind Bob Kalin's Catskill Mill building, Lumberyard, it’s such a positive momentum that's happening in Catskill at the moment. You know this is a natural next step to try to continue the momentum and bring even more people here."

For now, Tomlinson continues making presentations before civic and community organizations.  "Part of our responsibility when we get older is to ensure that the next generation inherits something of quality that's better than what we had. So, the creative economy is really the economic and aesthetic platform that not only the village survives on, but I want it not to survive but to thrive."

Tomlinson admits funding his vision will not be easy, but expects it will come via state, federal and private sources.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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