Nonprofits – ‘Light, laughter, creativity’: Leader aims to make Saratoga Arts ‘hub’ of Saratoga Springs arts scene

Executive Director Louise Kerr poses for a photo inside the Saratoga Arts building
Executive Director Louise Kerr poses for a photo inside the Saratoga Arts building

The Saratoga Arts building sits on Broadway in the center of Saratoga Springs, so it’s not surprising that Executive Director Louise Kerr envisions it becoming the center for arts throughout the Spa City.

“Saratoga Arts is positioned perfectly to be the facilitator and the hub that connects everyone,” Kerr said in her office just hours after hosting the organization’s capital campaign kickoff. “During the pandemic, a lot of the smaller organizations, many of whom we fund — like Shakespeare in the Park, Beekman Street art festivals — all these smaller organizations were not able to do what they did.

“It was either they were going to fold, and unfortunately some of them did, or they needed to pivot and do things differently. I knew that Saratoga Arts was uniquely positioned to afford them a place to all be appreciated and to be brave about sharing their resources because we could be like the hub that allowed them to still keep going.”

According to Kerr, the city of Saratoga Springs has committed $700,000 toward exterior renovations for the 25-year-old building and Saratoga Arts launched a capital campaign to raise an additional $500,000 for interior improvements.

Some of the already completed renovations were completed during the pandemic, including removing carpeted flooring throughout the public spaces and removing chairs that could not be sanitized, replacing them with 200 cleaning-friendly chairs in the theater.

All this has occurred during the 14 months that Kerr has been at the helm of Saratoga Arts, which hosts exhibits featuring regional artists, facilitates grants and hosts art classes/workshops, among other community-centered programs.

She left a position at Olana State Historic Site, a National Historic Landmark in the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, to take the Spa City job.

Two immediate tasks she faced were financing and visibility.

“I like to sort of say that I run my nonprofit as a profit-driven business in some ways,” Kerr said. “At least I need to be really making sure we’re breaking even and creating good, steady income.”

She built a country home near Great Sacandaga Lake more than a decade ago and would frequent Saratoga Springs each weekend during her getaways from Manhattan.

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But Kerr — who holds an architecture degree from Glasgow University and a Master of Fine Arts from the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture — was unaware of Saratoga’s arts center.

“I realized I had never set foot in this building. I thought, well, there’s a problem there if I don’t know about the arts center and I’ve been going to Saratoga for decades,” Kerr said. “It’s actually been something that’s crossed over — I realized the majority of people don’t know who we are and what we do.

“This past year has been a reintroduction of who Saratoga Arts is, what it does and why we’re a vital component to the community.”

Despite taking the position in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown orders, Kerr was always optimistic.

“It’s a little over a year and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a heavy lift. It’s been a Herculean effort, and I’ve had an incredible, amazing, small but mighty staff lift us up,” Kerr said.

Kerr added that the recent summer camps saw the most children come through the Saratoga Arts center in the organization’s history and that the organization is on track to meet its prepandemic financial goals.

“I think it’s this silver lining, especially for arts and culture nonprofits, that the pandemic has had,” Kerr said. “People realize how much it’s needed in your community, and it’s why you live there. It is the things that just bring out light, laughter and creativity. People are ready and willing to really sort of pitch in and help, so I feel really blessed.”

Saratoga Arts
Year Founded: 1986
Mission: To enrich the region by cultivating a vibrant arts community and ensuring that the arts are accessible to all.
Areas served: Saratoga, Fulton and Montgomery counties
Quote: “Saratoga Arts is positioned perfectly to be the facilitator and the hub that connects everyone.” — Louise Kerr, executive director

More: Special Section – Nonprofits

Categories: Life and Arts, Nonprofits 2021

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