FULTON, NY – It was five years ago that a simple “Letter to the Editor” submission encouraged people throughout the city of Fulton to come together and replenish the life of the arts for the local community.
Little did Nancy Fox know when these meetings began in the spring of 2011, that those once small, weekly meetings that she organized would turn into something bigger and better than she imagined.
“In trying times we needed a new identity in Fulton. The arts can have that impact, they can make a difference, we just needed people to know that and be able to see that,” said Fox.
A few years after the sudden passing of her husband, Fox looked at herself and questioned what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
With four children, all of whom were fully invested in the arts, Fox found two of her children moving away to pursue their artistic dreams.
Her son found ample opportunity in Texas, the hub for video gaming where he is able to achieve his dream of working as an artistic director in the gaming industry. Similarly, her daughter moved to California to pursue her plentiful career as an actress.
While her two remaining children stayed local and followed careers in the medical field, their passion still belonged to the arts.
“Even if they’re not able to make a living, the arts give kids transferable skills that they can use in all aspects of their life. I wanted to be able to make these opportunities available for our youth, so maybe we can keep more of them home and allow them to still follow their dreams,” said Fox.
And for that reason, Fox started those weekly grassroots meetings that the group quickly grew out of.
At that time, founder Fox began the nonprofit corporation known as CNY Arts Center and began organizing events for the community to participate in and enjoy such as an annual Arts Festival and Snow Day events.
The group continued their weekly meetings through 2012, now with the opportunity for space including a stage and seating at State Street Methodist Church which provided the opportunity to start offering classes and summer camps, the humble beginning of a soon to be thriving multi-arts program to benefit both the artists of the region as well as the public.
While they continued to utilize the church space, the group was able to open a downtown location in 2013 located at 47 S. First St., called “Arts in the Hearts Gallery” where local artists were able to display their work for public enjoyment or showcase their artwork for sale.
Quickly thereafter, in fall of 2014 the group took their biggest step yet when they began a partnership with Cayuga Community College and moved into the campus plaza located at 11 River Glen Drive in Fulton.
“Our collaboration with CCC has been great,” said Fox. “The college utilizes our space as their event center for things like orientation and open house, and we also open our facility for civic needs, it’s a great meeting space. It helps bring people to the campus so CCC can have a fruit in the community, because that’s their goal, and we can frequently bring people in such as community agencies and organizations looking for a space to meet. We have a very valuable relationship and they have been an amazing host.”
The new space, with the capability to seat 180 audience members and a stage with full sound and light systems of a professional stage, the options are endless for those who can use the space.
CNY Arts Center, now a flourishing multi-arts center is the most prevalent group to utilize the new location.
As they see the most success in the theater portion of their services, CNY Arts Center frequently puts on productions for the public including Oliver, Narnia, Seussical Jr., and Shakespeare among many, all of which are very well attended including the first show they produced in their new location, Wizard of Oz that boasted 40 cast members and a sold out crowd.
Currently, CNY Arts is holding auditions for their upcoming production, Pollyanna.
“Without telling you much of what the production is about, I will just tell you it sends a message I feel strongly about; to always find something to be glad about, even in the darkest times. And that’s why CNY Arts Center started, we needed something for Fulton to be glad about,” said Fox.
As director for the production, Fox feels strongly that she will deliver this message to all who attend.
Auditions for upcoming productions are posted to the center’s website and on their Facebook page as well as in local news publications and are always open to any member of the public with no charge to participate.
“People come from all over and to me, that is so great,” said Fox, explaining that she has cast and crew from all over the county and even some traveling from the Syracuse area and farther.
The nonprofit corporation is ran entirely by volunteers led by founder, executive director and president, Fox who brings forth immense knowledge with a Bachelors degree in Arts Management from SUNY Oswego and a Masters degree in Drama with a concentration in Directing from Syracuse University as well as prior experience owning Port City Theater in Oswego before the passing of her husband and working in the marketing department at Syracuse Stage before retiring.
“We are an all volunteer organization from our instructors to our Board of Directors and everyone in between and this is truly the most wonderful group of people. It’s wonderful to be surrounded by such creative people all the time,” said Fox.
With a steady estimate of 15-20 outside volunteers and nine board members, there is roughly always 30 active volunteers in the program that help keep CNY Arts Center alive and well.
“I only wish we could afford to pay them. They all work so hard and just because they enjoy it, I couldn’t tell you how much I appreciate every single one of them,” she continued.
One of the current goals of CNY Arts is to increase memberships, which in turn could eventually produce the ability to pay the hard-working volunteers of the organization.
With a membership base of approximately 100 people, Fox is working with Key Bank in the Make A Difference Day Project to tackle the extensive process of sending and finalizing memberships.
While membership is not required for any artists to sell or display art or for any public member to utilize the many programs and services offered, it is encouraged to help CNY Arts continue to be able to provide these opportunities.
“It’s not super expensive and we don’t mandate anyone to hold a membership, but we do appreciate those who do and recognize the tremendous help that they provide to our organization,” said Fox.
Aside from individual memberships, CNY Arts Center has found help in many local organizations that encourage the goals and hopes the organization has.
In it’s short five years of existence, CNY Arts Center has been widely recognized by State Senator Patty Ritchie and Assemblyman Will Barclay and has won awards from a variety of organizations such as Non Profit of the Year in 2015 from the Greater Oswego-Fulton Chamber of Commerce as well as Recognizing Oswego County Community Champion in March of 2016, Fulton Sunrise Rotary Community Service Award 2012-2013 as well as the Women of Distinction Award, specifically for Fox.
The entire lights and sound system at CNY Arts Center was funded through the Shineman Foundation in Oswego and the Gifford Foundation in Syracuse selected CNY Arts as one of five non profits in the region last year to participate in the Power Program, which helped the organization to strengthen the major systems in place through a small grant and the use of a consultant.
With these key factors in place, Fox and the rest of the organization have their sights set on successfully continuing their currently offered programs and services and are very excited about a few upcoming events.
Aside from offering their usual classes such as painting, culinary, ballroom dancing, creative writing to cover all areas of visual, performance, literary and culinary arts, CNY Arts Center is focusing on their summer programs including the annual Arts Festival and Arty Camp.
The 2016 Festival of the Arts in it’s fifth year falls on the same weekend as Jazz Fest in Fulton (August 12-14), teaming together for a weekend full of artistic and musical fun for all ages.
The Festival will include the showing of Pollyanna, an arts and crafts fest with handmade original art, a “Tale of Two Bridges” Walkathon encouraging teams to walk the bridges in costume and win prizes and even a Plein Air Paint Out.
Focused on the 200th anniversary of the county, the Plein Air Paint Out will allow local artists to visit the beautiful scenery in the area on Saturday (August 13) to paint a historic landmark of the county and return to auction off all the pieces the following, conclusion day of the Festival.
Arty Camp is a six week program with two locations available for children ages six through sixteen offering a wide variety of artistic programs and fun.
Parents can register their child to attend certain classes such as 3D and Altered Art, Video Production, Wood-Working, Nature Art and Animal Art to name a few, or for full days with early drop off and late pick up available for those who need it.
The camp even offers a two hour window each day where any child can attend a free art program and receive free lunch from noon until 2 p.m.
The second portion, Theater Camp provides stagecraft, acting, creative movement, theater games and more ending with a free public performance showcase that camp attendees will entirely produce during the three week sessions.
Currently, CNY Arts Center is selling hand painted garden chairs to benefit the Don Gillespie Scholarship Fund that helps provide a partial scholarship for one in four children that attend Arty Camp.
Arty Camp focuses on the youth of the area, aiming to encourage them to explore the arts and the many benefits they bring about.
“We are passionate about getting the young people in here, that’s the future,” said Fox.
But CNY Arts doesn’t just benefit the youth of the community.
Some of the best success stories of CNY Arts Center come from board members and even from Fox herself.
One board member, Bonnie McClellan was able to launch her paint instruction into her own business hosting Paint and Sip classes for the community, an opportunity that allowed her to leave her full-time job to pursue her true passion, according to Fox.
Another board member who owns a pastry company came to CNY Arts Center with the desire to learn how to paint. Since then, she has become “a painter in her own right,” said Fox, selling her paintings at many different locations.
She also had always dreamed of writing a book, and with the help of the Arts Center’s creative writing class, she fulfilled that goal and became a published author.
“You’re never too old to learn something new,” said Fox.
She too, had learned something new about herself that CNY Arts Center brought out of her.
“I’ve discovered my passion for advocacy. Someone needs to speak up and say what the arts are doing, there needs to be a voice to continually remind people. We have a message to deliver that arts can change people, and change brings hope. I like to be that voice now,” said Fox.
As for the future, Fox hopes she and everyone at CNY Arts Center can encourage more and more artists and community members to participate in the opportunities they provide and even discover something they didn’t know they would enjoy.
“We are delivering services people don’t even know they need, but there’s so much more we can do. I want CNY Arts Center to continue to do what it does, but do it better and do it more. I sincerely invite everyone in the community to come find something they enjoy in the arts, you won’t be disappointed,” said Fox.