Fifty years ago, in 1962, an arts center opened its doors in a handsome Troy brownstone across from Washington Park. At the Rensselaer County Council for the Arts, people could take art classes or visit the art gallery in the mansion’s old ballroom and dining room.
Twelve years ago, at the turn of the century, the RCCA changed its name to The Arts Center of the Capital Region and moved to a spacious new home in a former furniture store on River Street.
Today, the private, nonprofit organization serves more than 40,000 adults, teens and children who come from 11 counties.
In June, as the Arts Center marked its half-century anniversary, Chris Marblo became its new president, replacing Amy Williams, who left in July 2011, and interim president Deborah Onslow.
Marblo grew up in Long Island and Columbia County, and when he took the job in Troy, he was headmaster at The Town School in Manhattan.
But he wasn’t a stranger to the Capital Region. For 22 years, this region was his home, the place where he launched his career as an educator and administrator.
To find out more about the Arts Center of the Capital Region, call 273-0552 or visit www.artscenteronline.org.
He was a student at The College of Saint Rose, where his self-designed major was “Literature and Human Thought,” a blend of literature, philosophy and religion.
At New York University, Marblo’s graduate work in the humanities included study in China, Japan and France. His first job out of grad school was teaching English at Saratoga Central Catholic High School. And then he worked at Albany Academy as its middle school administrator.
Marblo’s wife, Annette, grew up in Lansingburgh and Waterford, and is the daughter of the late Virgil Provost, who taught science at Schenectady High School, and the late Mary Provost, who was a history teacher at Shenendehowa High School. Mary Provost was involved in politics and once ran against Joe Bruno as a Democratic candidate for the New York state Senate.
“I was away from the Capital District for 16 years, but here I am,” Marblo says.
He’s 52 and has three sons: Matthew graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York City and lives in Los Angeles; David has a philosophy degree from SUNY Purchase; and Patrick, who is 11, attends school in Niskayuna.
Q: What are your biggest challenges coming into this job?
A: The first is visibility and name recognition. We’re still a little bit under the radar for a 50-year-old institution, and we need to address that. And the second is, like every nonprofit, we face challenges relative to resources. So we need to have more earned income. And I think we need to expand our giving. We’re doing a strategic plan right now. That’s going to launch in about two months.
Q: Will there be changes?
A: We want to really broaden our mission to be not just about art but to be about creativity and creative thinking. At our annual gala we will be awarding two arts awards, one to a regional rising star, and one to an established regional artist. Hopefully, these will be substantive awards, in the $5,000 to $10,000 category.
Q: How would you teach creative thinking?
A: We want to focus on middle- and high-school students. Young people will need to thrive in the world that’s emerging. Any one who is successful, be it a scientist, a businessman or artist, has got that creative thinking skill. Creativity is not some mysterious condition that you are born with or without. It’s a skill that can be taught. We want to be the regional implementor of that skill.
Q: Is there a model for such a course?
A: There’s one in Boston that’s actually very interesting. It’s an organization called NuVu, and it’s a consortium of private and public school who are working with MIT and Harvard and doing semester-long, year-long design thinking-creative thinking projects that are taught by Ph.D. students.
Q: Is RPI going to be involved?
A: I hope. They’ve got a program called “Design, Innovation and Society,” which is exactly what we are thinking about. I’ve just started to reach out to them.
Q: You mentioned visibility. Are there any plans to change your name or brand? For example, the Schenectady Museum is now called miSci.
A: It’s something that we are talking about but there’s no definitive plan to change the name. There probably will be some re-branding. We want to be known for what we are, a regional organization, not just Troy-centric. The people that come here are from beyond Rensselaer County.
Q: How do you compare with other arts centers?
A: There’s not much competition. There’s an arts center in Saratoga. There are some far to our south. There’s a great one in Stockbridge. But we’re it for the Capital Region.
Q: What are your most popular classes for adults?
A: Our most popular strand is definitely pottery. A growing area is culinary arts. Printmaking and jewelry making remain very strong.
Q: And how is the arts center connecting with Troy?
A: We want to offer a positive future for Troy. So we are going to be applying this idea of creative thinking to Troy and its future. We’re calling it the Re-imagining Troy Project. Local residents can imagine ways big and small that Troy can be a more livable city. Submit your ideas and a panel of local stakeholders will be the judges of the best ideas. We’ll take the 25 best and feature them in an exhibit and on our website. We’ve got a great collection of stakeholders, everyone from Evan Douglis, who’s the chair of the architecture school at RPI, to Rex Smith from The Times Union, to Kathleen Jimino, the Rensselaer County executive. It will be a lot of fun.
Q: When does Re-imagining Troy begin?
A: Next month. Ideas can be submitted through next January.
Q: How does running an arts center compare to being a headmaster at a private school?
A: In many ways, the structures are exactly the same. There’s a board of trustees, there are committees. There are very similar budgeting needs and challenges. On the other hand, running a private school in New York City or anywhere is much different than running an arts organization. You are talking about shaping young lives in a very competitive world in a very competitive city, so there was an intensity to that work that I was quite frankly happy to leave behind. This is challenging and interesting and stimulating, but it’s not nearly as intense.
Q: How is Troy doing?
A: I think Troy is evolving into a gem of a city. It might in fact be a little arts hub for the region. It has a different ethos to it, and people are starting to recognize that, and are choosing to live in downtown Troy, to be in a walkable city, to have access to the river.
Q: How about Troy Night Out?
A: Troy Night Out is a wonderful thing. Troy has some very interesting businesses that have chosen to be in downtown Troy. We’ve got recent graduates of RPI choosing to stay in this region because they really like Troy. I think there’s definitely a wave of youthful energy that is taking hold of Troy.
Q: What books have you been reading?
A: I read Neil Young’s latest autobiography, and I read a great biography of singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen. I just picked up Nate Silver’s book about statistics and predicting things. I definitely trend more toward non-fiction than fiction.
Q: You have a music website (www.marginstars.com). What is Margin Stars?
A: That’s the name of the music that I put out there. It’s esoteric, marginal music. I do it solely for my own satisfaction, and if people happen to discover it, fine. If not, I’m just happy putting it out there and seeing what happens.
Q: How do you create this music?
A: It’s easier than ever in this day and age to record music at home and to put it out on places like ITunes. I have keyboards and guitars and software programs, and you record right onto a laptop. I don’t produce any physical CDs.
Q: How would you describe your music?
A: Electronic ambient music. Definitely influenced by some people that I like listening to, people like Brian Eno and David Bowie and Robert Fripp. I like rock ‘n’ roll, I like jazz, I like classical. But this is the music that I like to make.
Q: Do you have a studio in your house?
A: I wouldn’t call it a studio. I have a room/man cave, and it’s very simple.
Q: And you played guitar when you were at Saint Rose?
A: I was in a band that played in clubs in Albany. Interior Farmers was the name of the band. It was folk rock, New Wave type music. This was the late ’70s, early ’80s. There were certainly people who were active in that scene who would know us, but we never got further than playing downtown Albany. We played at Bogie’s, right near Saint Rose. We played at a great club that is no longer called the Chateau.
Q: Where do you live?
A: Niskayuna. That’s where we were when we left and we decided to go right back.