Q&A: Messmore revels in success of Art Night Schenectady

Mitch Messmore doesn’t get paid for the full-time hours he puts in for Art Night Schenectady. But he
Mitch Messmore visits with a familiar character on Jay Street in Schenectady.
Mitch Messmore visits with a familiar character on Jay Street in Schenectady.

Mitch Messmore doesn’t get paid for the full-time hours he puts in for Art Night Schenectady.

But he is gratified by the feeling he gets seeing his hometown brimming with pedestrians and spirited events.

Thanks to Messmore’s efforts, close to 1,000 people stroll through downtown Schenectady on the third Friday of every month. They listen to jazz sets at Phenomenonz, dine on the crepe specials at Chez Daisie Creperie, peruse paintings and sculptures at The Gallery at Proctors and marvel at Celtic step dancers at Lennon’s Irish Shop. And that’s just for starters.

This Friday, more than 20 events will take place, including the Schenectady Museum and Suits-Bueche lanetarium’s Latin-flavored gala. And if you miss the main events, the after-hours party with free desserts at the Moon & River Cafe continues late into the night.

Messmore, who grew up on Upper Union Street and graduated from Linton High School, received a Good News Award last April from The Chamber of Schenectady County for his efforts to revive the Electric City. Yet this is just one of his volunteer commitments.

The photographer, who lives in Albany, also gives his time to CristaNY, an organization that helps artists navigate the tenuous world of art.

In addition to his dreamy photographs of global landmarks, the Hudson Valley Community College graduate earns a living at ActiveHost Corp. At the technology company, based in the Stockade, he works as the marketing and client relations manager.

Earlier this month, Messmore sat down at the Muddy Cup to talk about the genesis of Art Night and how it blossomed.

Q: How did you come up with this idea? Were you following the example of other cities like Troy and Albany?

A: I was on the committee for First Friday in Albany. I was talking to Antoinette Di Mascio (founder of CristaNY) and I said, “We can do this in Schenectady.” We saw what was happening down here already and having a monthly arts events would just help and bring more people into downtown Schenectady.

Q: How did you get it going?

A: We formed a steering committee and brought it up to the Schenectady chamber. We wanted to see what kind of reaction we would get. They thought it was perfect and said “Let’s get something going.” We had the backing of DSIC (Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation) immediately. Proctors was on board, day one.

Q: How did you lure in the other various venues?

A: I just went door to door. It was footwork.

Q: And they were willing?

A: Yes. Actually, it was a no-brainer. If you could get people to come down and you have a restaurant, why not stay open? There were a few people that said, “Let’s see how it works out.” When they saw success, slowly but surely, other places came on board.

It started out slow. We had 400 people coming in the beginning. As the months have gone on, even when it’s winter, we have 800 to 1,000 people come down.

Q: Being involved in CristaNY, you must have already been familiar with most of the visual arts venues here.

A: Yes, but there were a lot of places that didn’t show art normally that are doing it now. Like Earthly Delights. I went in there one day. I happen to have some of my own work that I didn’t have room for in my closet. It was a new body of work that I wanted to show. I went to talk to them and they said they’d love to have art in there. They were open late already for Art Night but now they are showing art, too.

Q: Do artists find it’s less fulfilling, though, to show in a restaurant as opposed to a gallery?

A: No. Artists are happy to show. They are even more happy to sell.

Q: Have the artists been successful with sales?

A: Absolutely. There was one artist, just graduated from high school, just ready to go to college in New York. She sold $700 worth of work at Boburka Studios in Center City.

Artists are getting exposure. And people who don’t normally go out to see art, go. But it’s not just fine art, there is music and dancing, the art of shopping and dining. Food is great art.

Q: So it’s working. You can revive a city with arts.

A: Yes. The best way to stimulate the economy is stimulate arts and culture.

Q: So you can tell all the naysayers you were right.

A: It’s not that I was so sure that I was right. It’s about the power of positive thinking and persistence.

Categories: Life and Arts

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