Renee Nied, the new executive director of the Tri County Arts Council, has two desks in the organization’s new office on Lark Street in Cobleskill.
“When I sit here, I’m the executive director. And when I sit over there, I’m the grant coordinator,” says Nied, pointing to a pair of metal schoolteacher-type desks. “And that’s actually how I delineate what I’m working on.”
Her office is a former classroom in the old Aker School, a formidable building with marble stairs, high ceilings, wooden floors and real slate blackboards.
“Isn’t it great?” says Nied. “It’s a preschool, a Head Start facility.”
The Tri County Arts Council has gone through many changes since it was founded in 1977 as the Schoharie County Arts Council.
For its first 10 years, the organization had offices and a gallery on the lower level of Cobleskill Public Library. In 1987, the arts council moved to a new space with a small gallery in the United States Hotel on Main Street, in the same building that was burned in a massive fire this past fall.
For more info
Contact the Tri County Arts Council: call 234-7521, ext. 209, or visit tricountyarts.org.
In 2004, the organization expanded to cover not only Schoharie County but Fulton and Montgomery counties, and changed its name to Tri County Arts Council. It also moved to 107 Union St., its largest space ever, a downtown storefront with a gallery and a shop, ArtWorks!, where regional artists sold their work.
In 2007, the Arts Council launched a campaign to buy and renovate the Union Street building, with the hopes of creating a comprehensive arts center. But that plan never became a reality.
Late last year, the Arts Council moved from Union Street to Lark Street, and, in January Mark Eamer, who was executive director for six years, departed. Nied, who replaced Eamer, is now running the council with the help of 50 active volunteers.
The Tri County Arts Council administers New York State Council on the Arts grants for a host of nonprofit arts groups, from the Colonial Little Theater and Friends of Johnson Hall to the Upper Catskill String Quartet and the Sacandaga Valley Arts Network.
A New Jersey native, Nied (pronounced “Need”), is a graduate of Kean University in Union, N.J. She and her husband, Bob, and 13-year-old son, Owen, live in Richmondville, west of Cobleskill.
Q: Why did the Arts Council move to Lark Street?
A: The economic downward spiral. . . . It happened and we reacted to it. We were fortunate that we had a very good relationship with Head Start and they offered us this in-kind office space.
Q: How is the new office working out?
A: This is a good space. Free Internet. Free electricity. Ample parking.
Q: And the disadvantages?
A: No storefront. It’s on the third floor, and you have to go through some machinations to get in. I think a lot of people confused the arts council with the shop that we had. The shop was a program, a very successful program, that existed during a more prosperous economy. It could not self-sustain, so as a program, it ended, but the arts council has not. We’re actually doing almost as much as we did then, but the shop did provide us with a lot of visibility.
Q: Why is the Arts Council so important?
A: This is how the nonprofits get grants. We are responsible for about 30 events that happen at no cost or very low cost in Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties. But that is not all that we do. We have to answer to the state with fundraising of our own. How we do that is by hosting fundraisers that expose the community to the arts. We bring in events that the community would not normally have access to.
Q: What are your major fundraisers?
A: Twelfth Night, which happens in January, right after Christmas. It’s festive, it’s great feasting, a coming together of friends and neighbors to close out the season. And our version is a swanky dinner in The American Hotel in Sharon Springs. We do a membership drive in May. In September, we’ll be having an art walk in Cobleskill.
Q: The Blenheim Bridge Artwalk is one of the new art events that get state funding through the arts council. How is that going?
A: That is one of our success stories. They are in their third year. It’s the only event in Blenheim annually, and last year it attracted over 2,000 people. (This year’s event is scheduled for Sunday, July 17.)
Q: With the move to Lark Street, you lost your gallery space. Will you still be doing art exhibits?
A: We’re still hoping to have shows, but we don’t have a permanent home. We’re thinking outside the box on ways to still have shows. There’s a members’ show slated for October at the community library in Cobleskill.
Q: What about the annual National Small Works Exhibition, which dates back to 1982?
A: Small Works is a national show that should be back next year. You need a worthy venue, a place that experiences a lot of foot traffic and is easy to get to. It’s been at the Arkell, and it’s been at the SUNY campus.
Q: What are your goals for the Arts Council?
A: First and foremost is to become self-sustaining so that the economy never again has the ability to impact our services or what we provide to the community. I think we all felt a loss. It was devastating to not be able to do things for people the way you used to. I understand that we need to prove ourselves, to have successful events, to bring awareness and events to our underserved community. And then one will feed the other.
Q: Is running an Arts Council in a rural area different than in an urban or suburban area?
A: I think there is as much talent here. A lot of it has been discovered, but a lot of it has not. And I think there’s just as much need probably everywhere as far as artists getting paid for who they are. I do think that being in a rural area means less exposure for kids who aren’t able to seek things out or their parents can’t because they are all working. I do think that’s a greater challenge here than in a city.
Q: “Drive-Thru Poetry” is a brand-new event that you dreamed up. What was that like?
A: I knew that April was National Poetry Month. And I started thinking that we needed an inexpensive way to come back in the public eye. And lot of my focus is children because they are your next generation of artists and art. So we came up with easily understood, accessible poems on bright-colored paper and got businesses downtown to hand them out or ask people if they would like one. We distributed over 1,500 in April.
Q: Would you do it again?
A: Oh yeah. We’re talking about next year incorporating our own poets into the project, so you would get a local poet as well.
Q: How long have you been involved with the Arts Council?
A: Since 2008. I started as a volunteer. Then I became the grant coordinator. Then I became the big cheese, the “gouda hagen,” the muckety-muck.
Q: Are you an artist or musician?
A: I was a stage manager in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. I toured with the Princeton Ballet, the North American Ballet, lots of rock ’n’ roll shows and off-Broadway. It was fun.
Q: How did you end up in Schoharie County?
A: Love. I met my husband and he had a place in Richmondville. We came up on weekends until we could transition ourselves full time to Richmondville. I met him while working in Newark, New Jersey, at the phone company.
Q: How did you end up working in the theater?
A: I’m an example of how the arts can change the direction of someone’s life. I didn’t get exposed to theater until college. They didn’t have it in my school. I realized that all these thoughts that I had were not unique to me. Your life goes from black and white to color.
Q: Did you act in college?
A: I was Elma Duckworth in “Bus Stop.” I realized that I couldn’t act, but I could translate a director’s vision and maintain that vision and do everything that a stage manager does.
Q: What do you like to do when you are not working?
A: I garden. I play drums. I’m a massive tobogganer in my backyard. My son and I built a toboggan run. We have moguls. We have paths that are marked out with flags and food dye. My son and I also built a Venus Snow Milo, which is a 6-foot-high Venus de Milo out of snow.
Q: What are you doing this summer?
A: We’ll probably go visit my parents in New Jersey. Go to the beach.