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Study aims to capitalize on Saranac Lake arts

More than 80 Saranac Lake residents, artists and business owners attended AMS Planning and Research’s meeting to address and make suggestions about the future of arts and culture in the village at the Saranac Lake Free Library Wednesday, Jan. 10. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

SARANAC LAKE — With more than 19 venues for live music, art exhibits and educational workshops, this community has a lot of arts and culture to offer, and consultants say a more combined effort among these venues, local businesses and state organizations could have a successful economic impact.

The village hired AMS Planning and Research this past July to conduct studies and help direct the community into a stronger center for arts and culture. After six months, AMS presented their findings and took suggestions for a master plan at a public forum attended by more than 80 Saranac Lake residents, artists and business owners at the Saranac Lake Free Library Wednesday, Jan. 10.

The public’s suggestions and concerns were taken into account for AMS’s master plan, which it will present Thursday, Feb. 22.

The studies presented by AMS representatives Lynette Turner and Brynn Elcock showed that arts and culture are important social and economic assets to the village. The village also doesn’t cater to one type of art but rather many, such as live music, galleries and dance. Outlets such as comedy, culinary arts and literature are not as abundant, but they received high interest from local residents.

“Some towns have no theater or no dance,” Turner said. “That was not an issue here.”

AMS also provided a preliminary plan to create a Saranac Lake arts and culture website and app, establish a welcoming committee for visitors and potential home buyers and apply to the New York State Council of the Arts for funding and support.

A main portion of this plan is building partnerships between businesses and artists and create package deals for locals and visitors. For example, if someone stays at a hotel in Saranac Lake, a dinner at a local restaurant and a performance at a downtown venue can be part of their purchase.

“We want people to say, ‘Let’s go skiing, then see a concert, then go to a restaurant,'” Elcock said.

Another aspect was refurbishing established venues and empty storefronts. With the help of a survey from Fischer Dachs Associates, an architecture firm based out of Manhattan, AMS found that Pendragon Theatre could use some renovations and possibly a relocation closer to Main Street.

AMS and the village released a survey on arts and culture in Saranac Lake in September. The survey was sent out in a mass email to village residents. There were a few murmurs in the crowd of people who didn’t even know the survey existed.

Turner and Elcock didn’t have the number of how many people they sent it to, but they did report how many completed the 10-minute survey.

Out of the 320 people who completed the survey, only eight were against increased spending and initiatives for arts and culture in Saranac Lake.

A few attendees wanted more information about if investments into arts and culture will actually turn a profit.

Thomas Minehan, a local retired doctor, sought to ease people’s worries about the money with the story of Rockland, Maine, a town that for a long time was known for its fish waste processing plants and the rotting smells that came with them. After the largest fish waste processing plant in town left the area, Rockland turned into a major hub for tourism and arts and culture.

“In the last five years,” Minehan said, “they started getting cruise ships stopping in with people dropping a lot of cash.”

Harrietstown Councilwoman Jordanna Mallach raised concerns about having an arts program that her daughter and other children can walk to after school. Mallach is aware of programs at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, but for parents with full-time jobs, getting their kids somewhere during the middle of the work week can be a struggle.

Local chiropractor and member of the Music on the Green Summer Concert Series Joe Dockery addressed the point that all the folks in the meeting that night had an interest in seeing the arts become a larger draw for Saranac Lake, but how does the village reach out to those who don’t see it as a top priority.

Toward the end of the presentation, Turner and Elcock showed some photos of other communities that invest heavily in arts and culture and what that could look like for Saranac Lake. One photo showed a mountain in a northern European town with paint scattered across the snow. Skiers would glide down the hillside, leaving colorful marks all over the landscape. Another photo showed a wheelchair ramp; Turner and Elcock stressed that accessibility to theaters and art galleries is a key component to helping arts and culture grow. One picture showed a mural on a building to encourage community art in public spaces. The last photo was of a cobblestone street in Spain; overhead hung a collection of multicolored umbrellas that provided shade and created an interesting setting while people shopped along the street.

Residents must now wait before AMS returns with its master plan at the end of next month, but some people said that night’s presentation was a success.

Director of the Northern Lights Choir Helen Demong said AMS presented their program well, and she was glad many people attended.

“It shows there’s a lot of interest in the arts,” she said, “and the community wants to invest.”