Anthony’s Church will host an exhibit of some of the best
regional artists this weekend—attesting to the power of grassroots
by john whipple
Root and I started talking about it a year or so ago,” says
Emily Collins, remembering the genesis of the idea of the
site-specific exhibit Vestuary Operatics, the single-weekend
show in St. Anthony’s Church in Albany’s Mansion Neighborhood
this weekend (June 1-3).
This is a big step forward for the church and the neighborhood
organization that owns—and is in the process of renovating—it,
Grand Street Community Arts. This ambitious exhibit will likely
bring more attention—and more visitors—to St. Anthony’s than
any previous event.
people closely involved with renovating the church were, Collins
says, of necessity “stuck in this fund-raising, bureaucratic
stage.” Collins and Root, who were on the periphery of that
effort, thought this was a way they could contribute to it.
They hoped, she remembers, that if they reached out to artists
in the community, there would be a generous response.
friends with Ryder,” Collins explains, referring to C. Ryder
Cooley. Troy-based, Cooley is in the Electronic Art MFA program
at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She is also becoming
known for her haunting (haunted?) performances and film screenings
around the area. Cooley, intrigued by both the idea and the
church, suggested Collins contact Michael Oatman—who agreed
to curate the exhibit, with Cooley.
This led to Vestuary Operatics, which, according to
the program notes, will offer “performance, drawing, photography,
sculpture and other installations as a fleeting tribute to
both the magnificent architecture and the crumbling decay
found in the interior of St. Anthony’s.”
Or, as artist Nao Bustamante exhorts in an e-mail, “explore
the building in all its decrepit glory before the renovations
The participating lineup is a kind of local who’s who of the
edgy side of the local arts scene: In addition to Oatman,
Cooley and Bustamante, this includes William R. Bergman, Colleen
Cox, Jan Galligan, Sarah Gonek, Allen Grindle, Chris Harvey,
Mindy McDaniel, Lillian Mulero, Fernando David Orellana and
Jack Zazlo. This will be an interesting addition to the latest
First Friday event.
just completed some roof work, thanks to a small grant from
the city,” says GSCA board member Tom McPheeters.
Cooley, Jeff Root and Emily Collins
referring to an $8,000 grant from the Albany Community Development
Agency, which made it possible to repair the damaged dormers
on the south side of the roof. While more repairs are definitely
needed, McPheeters chuckles, “we’re hoping this will keep
GSCA, McPheeters says, also recently received a $50,000 grant
from New York state. This grant, made possible by Assemblyman
Jack McEneny (D-Albany), will allow the bidding process to
proceed for infrastructure repairs. The main thing now, he
says, is to get the plumbing fixed, bathrooms installed and
get the electrical service “to where it needs to be.”
While the process of designing the most effective heating
system for the structure is also still in progress, GSCA has
involved the local community in some noteworthy accomplishments:
Cohoes Design Glass Associates repaired three stained-glass
windows for free, while volunteers repainted the sanctuary’s
ceiling, demolished the basement ceiling and restored the
church’s historic bell for full use.
And then, he adds, “the rest of it is fund-raising, fund-raising,
Mansion Community Arts—has come a long way since former neighborhood
activist Gabrielle Becker first proposed trying to save St.
Anthony’s in 2003. The group has forged partnerships with
Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings and the city of Albany, the National
Trust for Historic Preservation, and numerous other organizations.
This includes, strangely enough, the band Pearl Jam, who last
year selected GSCA to receive a portion of the ticket sales
from their 2006 Albany concert—the tidy sum of $13,000, which
was administered through the Vitalogy Foundation.
GSCA certainly hasn’t gone wanting, “grants,” McPheeters says,
“are not all that easy to access.”
In 2006, according to their “Plan for 2007,” GSCA raised “$26,689
in grants and contributions to support to support our program
activities and building rehab projects,” including that money
from Pearl Jam.
of the issue is having to use space in the Howe branch of
the Albany Public Library; transforming St. Anthony’s into
a functional arts center, it seems, will be a great help in
applying for funds. While restoring the church is an “all-consuming
project,” McPheeters notes, the arts and community-directed
programming must continue
Organics [Yo!, an urban-garden program] is booming. . . .
It will double in size this year. We should have around 20
kids doing urban gardening this summer,” McPheeters explains.
GSCA is now a part of an AmeriCorps program that employs Youth
Organics “coordinator” Jess Oppenheimer, and “a new position
to support activities” run out of the Howe Library. These
include, according to their plan, “break-dance classes, theater
workshops and a self-help group for young women.”
been living in this community for almost 10 years,” Collins
says. She was briefly involved as a board member at the very
beginning of Grand Street Community Arts, but “didn’t have
the time” then to continue. Collins says she is very happy
to again be a part of this effort to revitalize a neighborhood
It’s what “community” is all about.
Operatics will open at 5 PM tomorrow (Friday, June 1) at St.
Anthony’s Church (Grand Street and Madison Avenue, Albany)
as part of the monthly 1st Friday art event; the performances
will begin at 8:30 PM. There will be additional showings—but
without the performances—on Saturday and Sunday (June 2-3)
from noon to 5 PM. For more info, visit www.gscarts.org/operatics.