History of NorthCountryARTS
North Country Arts Center, known since 2015 as NorthCountryARTS, is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose current mission is to provide opportunities and to encourage and promote artists in the North Country of New York State.
In 1971, a group of artists based around Warrensburg, New York founded North Country Arts Center with the intention of offering children’s and adults’ art classes to the public. In the organization’s earliest days, member artists hosted classes in their own homes or in donated spaces, but NCAC soon rented its own storefront in an antiques plaza on Main Street in Warrensburg. From this location, the organization was able to hold its classes and provide gallery space for artists from around the North Country to exhibit and sell their work.
Janet Van Zee and Martha Strodel managed NCAC until Sara Cutshall-King began serving officially as the Executive Director in the summer of 1975. Soon after, NCAC moved to a new, larger facility: a Victorian house in Warrensburg. With this move, NCAC’s services expanded far beyond classes and gallery space to include a café, special performances, and a consignment store for artists to exhibit and sell their works. Support for this initiative came from the New York State Council on the Arts, the America the Beautiful Foundation, and the earned income from the store sales, workshops, memberships, and the café.
Unfortunately, the organization’s grant funding evaporated suddenly in early 1976. In order to continue its stated mission, North Country Arts Center began an unexpected search for a new and less costly base. The organization investigated Glens Falls, Lake George, Saratoga, and other potential sites.
The City of Glens Falls and the Urban Renewal Agency had several spaces available in Glens Falls’ downtown and Glens Falls’ Downtown Improvement Association arranged quickly for NCAC to occupy the storefront at 7 Ridge Street, rent free. In the summer of 1976, volunteers and staff moved all the Arts Center’s belongings from Warrensburg to Ridge Street, and the organization’s relationship with Glens Falls began. Warren County Tourism, the Lake George Opera Festival, Kaleidoscope, and the Glens Falls Operetta Club (now the Glens Falls Community Theater) all provided important collaborative support for North Country Arts in this period, and Sara Cutshall-King served on the boards of several of these organizations while she worked as the director of North Country Arts Center.
NCAC quickly became a core part of the Downtown Improvement Association’s efforts to revitalize Glens Falls’ commercial center, most crucially in helping to found the first Glens Falls Farmers’ Market and in working weekly towards the Market’s success. The first Glens Falls Farmers’ Market fabric banner was created by NCAC Board Chair Pam Mikel Hayes.
In 1978, Sara Cutshall-King, Bob Kafin and Pam Mikel Hayes wrote a proposal to create a City Arts Coordinator position for Glens Falls through the CETA program. When the proposal was accepted and the position created, the NCAC opened a gallery in City Hall. Rather than manage two Ridge Street locations, the NCAC board opted to give up the organization’s storefront site and make the new City Hall Gallery the organization’s exhibition space and center of support for area artists. Indeed, that same year, North Country Arts Center held an event that was an immediate sensation and which would become the annual highlight of the social calendar in the Glens Falls region for several years to come.
The Beaux-Arts Ball was co-sponsored by the Lake George Opera Guild and took its inspiration from a similar event held annually in Paris; it was a midwinter masquerade that brought artists and patrons together while also raising money for the two organizations. The traditional dance portion of the Ball ran at the Queensbury Hotel and featured a large orchestra led by Stan Gericke. Before the dance, guests enjoyed an unconventional and notable prelude: individual members of both organizations entertained small groups of guests in their own homes. The innovative plan reduced the price of the evening’s ticket for attendees and also provided them with the opportunity to connect personally and meaningfully with new people with a shared interest in the arts. The inaugural 1978 Ball’s theme was “American Arts,” and while the Beaux-Arts Ball drew 250 participants in that first year alone, it cannot be considered North Country Arts Center’s best-known annual event: that distinction must be reserved for On Your Own Time.
Richard Humphrey helped manage North Country Arts Center’s On Your Own Time program, the event that became NCAC’s signature. The annual competition was open to all area businesses. With the guidance of North Country Arts Center, businesses encouraged employees and retirees to share their original artistic work in any medium and enter the contest. NCAC displayed the work at its 2nd Floor Gallery in Glens Falls City Hall and presented awards to recognize the individual artists.
Other significant activities sponsored by North Country Arts Center include a summer golf tournament at Top of the World Golf Course, the Seven to Eleven Club art program in area libraries (for children ages 7 to 11), various children’s activities at the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council’s annual June Craft Festival, spin art at the Glens Falls Symphony’s Chocolate Festival (held at SUNY Adirondack), and the Colors of Fall Festival held at Glens Falls’ Crandall Park in September.
The primary objective of this arts organization has always been to create outlets that support, promote, and expose the talent of the artists living in northern New York State. Hundreds of local people have been involved with this organization over the last fifty years, working collaboratively to assist the organization in its mission. The organization can boast a long and productive history—a half century of continuous membership!–and while many programs and events have come and gone, the vision continues.
In 2006, a donor provided a site to serve as a new mailing address and location for the organization to maintain its records: 6 Pine Street, Glens Falls. Regular exhibitions continued in the 2nd Floor Gallery of City Hall, but the organization also began holding shows at Pine Street. NCAC further expanded artists’ opportunities to show their work that year by sponsoring an annual Art Show in December. The organization later added a July Photography Show. Both events include juror’s choice awards and run annually in the Friends’ Gallery at Crandall Public Library.
In 2009, North Country Arts Center presented two member shows to run in conjunction with The Hyde Collection’s featured exhibitions: one to complement the Hyde’s “Degas and Music” and another inspired by the work of Andrew Wyeth. In 2010, the NCAC board, working under the vision of board officer Fred Holman, opened a satellite chapter of the organization in Chestertown, New York. NCAC’s Art in Chestertown Gallery increased the organization’s regional presence and encouraged more artists from the Adirondack region to join the group and exhibit their work. In 2015, the Chestertown Gallery closed for the winter season, and the organization sought locations in Glens Falls. NCAC organized several exhibitions in Glens Falls at the Rare eARTh Gallery and Events at 176 Glen Street. That same year, NCAC also applied to use the more contemporary name NorthCountryARTS (with the Center dropped for branding purposes in publicity and marketing material, but retained for tax purposes in the group’s permanent name). The initiative received official approval and the organization became NorthCountryARTS.
In 2016, NCA opened a new gallery in Suite 114 of The Shirt Factory, a vibrant, historic renovated building at 71 Lawrence Street in Glens Falls. Once settled, NCA moved all its records and operations from the Pine Street site to the new NCA Gallery at the Shirt Factory. This Gallery, surrounded by neighboring shops and studios, hosts eight annual exhibitions, each with a people’s choice award. Of course, NCA’s 2nd Floor Gallery in Glens Falls City Hall continues to feature nine solo or group exhibitions each year, as it has done since it opened in 1978.
NorthCountryARTS has always made special efforts to help and provide opportunities for new artists, including very young artists. The organization has sponsored numerous noteworthy high school art shows. Under the coordination of NCA, students exhibited their work for the Centennial Celebration in Glens Falls and also designed models for the statewide art project on the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, “Art Walks on Water.” Currently, NCA sponsors the annual juried spring Youth Visions Program for high school students. Regional students may submit their work to exhibit at the NCA’s Gallery in the Shirt Factory. NCA hangs the show and runs a traditional reception to award recognition and prizes to the artists.
In 2016, NCA worked to establish a prestigious new juried fine art show called Expressions. With significant awards funded by The Touba Family Foundation and prominent professionals and experts of the regional arts community acting as jurors, the show immediately became a principal annual event for NCA members. Applications and jurying for the show typically took place entirely online through onlinejuriedshows.com. Until 2020, the Expressions ran annually at the Shirt Factory’s own cornerstone gallery space, The Shirt Factory Gallery, Suite 120. The show’s jurors have included: Erin Coe, then Director of the Hyde Collection (2016); Victoria Palermo, sculptor and professor of art at Skidmore College (2017); Francine Nemer, artist and longtime gallery owner at the Sagamore Hotel (2018); Jonathan Canning, Director of Curatorial Affairs and Programming at The Hyde Collection (2019); and Laura Von Rosk, Lake George Arts Project Gallery Director (2020).
In the spring of 2020, due to the Pandemic, NCA canceled the planned on-site exhibition of the Expressions show. Nevertheless, the organization made considerable effort to ensure Laura Von Rosk’s jurying proceeded as normally as possible and that the entire show would be available for the general public and members to view at the NCA Virtual Gallery on the NCA website. That virtual show was the first of several for NCA in 2020.For the March 2021 event, the NCA board voted to change the venue of the Expressions show. The exhibition moved from the Shirt Factory Gallery to the LARAC Gallery in Glens Falls, and although the show did hang at LARAC as a traditional, on-site exhibition for the public, it also ran concurrently as an online exhibit in the Virtual Gallery on the NCA website: virtual shows were now an established practice for NCA. Rebecca Pelchar, professor of Art History, Curator of the SUNY Adirondack art collection, and Director of the Visual Art Gallery at SUNY Adirondack, served as juror.
NorthCountryARTS began, in part, as a means to provide art classes to local residents. Instruction remains an important part of the organization’s purpose: helping artists develop their craft. The organization has run periodic art workshops in Chestertown, and in 2015, member artists presented a series of popular workshops at the Shirt Factory in Glens Falls. The funding for these workshops came in part from a grant from the Decentralization Program of the New York State Council on the Arts, administered by LARAC.
In 2017, NCA embarked on an innovative original endeavor to combine literature, music, and art for an event called Last Call. Composer Catherine Reid set area author and poet Paul Pines’ poetry to music and NCA invited its members to interpret the poetry in visual art. The performances—musical and poetic—ran in September 2017 at the Wood Theater, Glens Falls. An exhibition of the art hung at the Wood Theater through September before moving to the Friends’ Gallery at Crandall Public Library in October.
From 2015, NCA has been a core member of the Arts District of Glens Falls, collaborating with fourteen other arts organizations in Glens Falls to elevate public awareness of the arts via an Arts Trail, connecting the separate organizations of the Arts District physically. To complete this project, the ADGF accepted a portion of the New York State grant to facilitate the economic development efforts of Glens Falls. The grant will help make Glens Falls a true arts destination through public art and marketing. A proposed component of the marketing initiative was to also connect the separate organizations in the Arts District virtually: the sophisticated and user-focused ADGF website connects visitors seamlessly to each member organization’s individual website. In conjunction with this project, NCA embarked on a project to upgrade its own website to include a virtual gallery and mini-websites for members, all of them reached easily from the Arts District’s site.
Since 2016, the NCA Gallery in the Shirt Factory has run regular exhibitions of work with opening receptions for each show and a people’s choice award given to one artist in each show. Traditionally, the first show of each year has been known as the Sweetheart Deal, and all art at the show was sold for under $100. In 2020, before this show closed, New York State’s COVID PAUSE temporarily suspended all activity at the NCA Gallery at the Shirt Factory and the 2nd Floor Gallery in City Hall. The NCA board convened to discuss its options and agreed that until galleries could reopen safely, NCA would have to fulfill its mission virtually. The pandemic forced NCA to keep its galleries closed through all of 2020. However, during the Shirt Factory’s December 2020 Open House events, unaffiliated vendors made use of the NCA Gallery at the Shirt Factory. For two weekends before Christmas, the space was open to shoppers who were also able to view the art that, since March, had been behind closed doors and visible only online. Despite the pandemic, NCA was able to run most of its 2020 scheduled exhibitions in the Virtual Gallery on the NCA website.
In 2019, NCA began the work necessary to undertake a major 2020 event featuring the poetry of Bernice Mennis—writer, artist and teacher—interpreted in music by Catherine Reid and Anthime Miller. As in the 2017 event, NCA artists were to be invited to interpret the poetry in visual art, with the project culminating in an exhibition and performance. This performance and exhibition was intended originally to occur in September as a ticketed event at the Wood Theater, with the art visible to the general public at the Friends’ Gallery at Crandall Public Library in December. However, due to the pandemic, the performance will instead be entirely virtual, and the art exhibited in the Virtual Gallery on North Country Arts website. The board is actively considering its plans for the post-pandemic era, and NorthCountryARTS continues to seek prominent opportunities for area artists to exhibit their creations. Stay tuned for future activities.
Once things began opening up after the pandemic, NCA started negotiating with the Shirt Factory to move into the main Shirt Factory Gallery since it had closed its doors and was just being used for storage. Plans were made to move into the new space and the first show “Artist’s View” opened on June 17, 2021. it is a much larger space with a small nook off the main room which was named the Betty O’Brien Gallery in memory of one of our long-time board members. Shows at the Shirt Factory have between 30 to 40 artists exhibiting their work in the seven exhibitions during the year, including one juried show and four solo shows in the Betty O’Brien Gallery. The 2nd Fl Gallery exhibits nine solo and group shows during the year. In addition, NCA holds a Pholograph Exhibition in July at the Friends Gallery and in December a Fine Art Exhibition. Membership over the years hovers around 150 and are offered a mini website on North Country Arts’ Website. New projects are always being considered and in 2022 NCA is sponsoring the Gem Festival (Glens Falls Entertainment and Music Festival) which is taking place at the Shirt Factory on July 9th. Stay tuned for more to come.
MISSION: A 501(c)3 non-profit organization providing opportunities, encouragement and promotion for artists in the North Country since 1971