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In February of 2016, the town of Bethel, in Sullivan County, NY established the Bethel Cultural District Exploratory Committee to establish “the formation of the Bethel Council of the Arts (BCA), which will bring the community, artists and town government together to promote and foster a cultural environment that benefits from the performing, visual and fine arts.” The newly formed organization, comprising a steering committee appointed by the town board, immediately established goals and began to build on the concept set forth by the town. “Toward that end,” board member Harvey Lippman explains, “the BCA has held silent auctions on Labor Day weekend in 2016 and 2017 and installed rotational art exhibits in local businesses.”
In addition to Lippman, a small band of volunteers, dedicated to making the dream a reality have worked tirelessly to open ArtSpace, a newly renovated gallery and performance space in the heart of Kauneonga Lake, for the 2018 season. “I accepted the invitation to join the initial steering committee as I feel strongly that the artist communities in Bethel (and the entirety of Sullivan County) need to be nurtured and supported. Our goal is to have the BCA increase the awareness of art in our community and provide meaningful outlets for local artists to exhibit and sell their works.”
While the first gallery exhibit was being installed last weekend, I popped in to find Lippman; silversmith James A. Hawley, who sits on the artists advisory committee; and board member Daryl Kroken hard at work. “The pursuing of art saved my life,” Kroken shared, “when I discovered it as a child. Art filled a void where I was born and raised, and continues to inspire. I’m doing this because I want to make a difference.”
“The BCA is also fortunate to have developed an important collaboration with Bethel Woods Center for the Arts,” Lippman added, which has allowed BCA artists to exhibit and sell their works at the Fall Harvest Festivals and Winter Holiday Markets that they produce. “Of course, none of this is possible without support,” Kroken said. “The BCA is an all-volunteer organization and can only fulfill its mission with the help of local artists and community members.” I asked if that meant that the BCA was only reaching out to artists in the immediate area, but all three were quick to point out that membership is open to all. “That’s a misconception that we need to dispel,” said Kroken. “The BCA wants to hear from, and support, artists throughout the region.”
The initial installation, titled “The Art of Four Potters,” featuring the work of Ellany Gable, Franco LoPinto, Jane Jacobs and the works of Sue Keebler officially opens this Saturday, June 30 with a reception to be held at 5 p.m. “Don’t forget,” Kroken said with a wink, “that ArtSpace is also hosting a fundraiser featuring Jonathan Charles Fox and Dharma the Wonder Dog in ‘Speak No Evil,’ a one-man storytelling event at 2 p.m. that same day. And reservations are coming in at a steady pace. We hope that you’re planning to attend,” he laughed. Hawley looked up from his work to also remind me about another feature of the BCA, the “Shop@ARTSPACE” showcasing “unique visual art, photographs, handmade jewelry and crafts created by local artists in a shop-like setting,” which will be available for purchase.
Thinking that I should probably prepare for my own show, I hustled the dog out the door, but not without asking how folks can get involved. “Both events on Saturday are designed to invite participation,” Kroken suggested, “and we need volunteers to make it happen.” Nodding in agreement, Lippman chimed in. “Of course we are encouraging membership, but we also need assistance with social media, website development and maintenance curating, and hanging art exhibits.” I’m a firm believer in the “If you build it, they will come” mentality, but none of it happens without some blood, sweat and tears, which this small army of folks have contributed thus far. Now it’s up to us to nurture and support.
The Bethel Council of the Arts is located at 3575 Route 55 in Kauneonga Lake and is staffed entirely by volunteers. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/BethelArt.org
Jonathan Charles Fox’s “Speak No Evil” is a fundraiser for the BCA, and reservations are strongly recommended. For details on making a reservation, see arts & liesure briefs.