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Oh, give me a home: the Eighth Step’s Rosenkranz. Photo by Teri Currie.

Two Steps Back

A highly-touted partnership between a local arts institution and the city of Cohoes comes to an acrimonious end

It’s a safe bet that Margie Rosenkranz and Cohoes Mayor John McDonald won’t be exchanging greeting cards this holiday season. Two years ago, when Rosenkranz’s organization, the Eighth Step, took up residence at the Cohoes Music Hall, she and the mayor were enthusiastic partners, sharing high hopes for their joint venture. But the Eighth Step has since had a falling out with Cohoes officials, leaving the future of the organization uncertain, and Rosenkranz with a bitter taste in her mouth.

It began in the spring of 2000, when the city approached the Eighth Step, a long-standing Albany nonprofit organization, and invited it to move in and manage the Cohoes Music Hall. At the time it seemed like a good match. The Eighth Step was looking for a new home to resume its tradition as a leading supporter of folk music in the Capital Region, and the music hall was in need of a tenant. The hall had gone virtually unused for years, and the city wanted someone who could revitalize the theater to move in, hoping that the revitalization also would spill over into lackluster downtown Cohoes.

So, in came the Eighth Step and an agreement was drawn up. Rosenkranz, as executive director of the Eighth Step, would manage the music hall for two years and have exclusive control of booking. The nonprofit wouldn’t have to pay rent. To hold up its end of the bargain, all the Eighth Step needed to do was bring performances and audiences to the 125-year-old music hall in the heart of downtown Cohoes.

Fast-forward to October 2002. Cohoes native Jim Charles and his firm, C-R Productions, are now managing the music hall, and the Eighth Step is once again homeless. Meanwhile, McDonald and Rosenkranz give conflicting accounts of the events that led up to the transfer of power.

According to the mayor, the city had certain expectations for the music hall during the Eighth Step’s occupancy, and it became apparent during the course of the two-year agreement that those expectations weren’t going to be met. When the city’s vision for the hall and downtown Cohoes hadn’t taken shape, the city brought in C-R Productions.

“The role of the Eighth Step was to bring in outside performances and to generate interest, income, and excitement downtown,” says McDonald. “That didn’t happen.”

Rosenkranz believes the management change had more to do with pressure on City Hall to bring in a local boy than the Eighth Step’s attendance figures.

“We had really taken off financially,” Rosenkranz says, pointing to a grant it had recently secured with the help of state Assemblyman Ron Canestrari—$5000 in state money slated for investment in the hall. The Eighth Step was also achieving measurable success at the box office, Rosenkranz says, citing a sold-out performance by singer-songwriter Greg Brown as proof that the Eighth Step’s traditional supporters would indeed make the trip to Cohoes to fill the music hall when the right act was presented.

McDonald counters that Eighth Step performances rarely drew large crowds, and that the types of obscure acts they routinely booked brought out only a handful of fans.

It’s far too soon to tell what kind of impact C-R Productions will have on Cohoes, but McDonald thinks that Jim Charles will succeed where Rosenkranz and the Eighth Step failed.

“Jim is a lifelong Cohoser, who really wants to see success in his hometown,” the mayor says.

In conjunction with its own shows, C-R Productions plans to bring in outside companies to perform off-Broadway musicals and plays. These types of shows, the mayor believes, will draw big audiences and turn the music hall into an economic catalyst.

Rosenkranz concedes that the city of Cohoes, as the owner of the music hall, has the right to install any managing entity it wants. But she takes issue with the way in which the change took place. She says that the city never approached her about the shift in management, or expressed any dissatisfaction with the way she was running the hall. By the time she was notified, Rosenkranz had already booked much of the her upcoming season, only to see C-R Productions commandeer dates Rosenkranz had already booked for Eighth Step acts.

McDonald dismisses claims that the management change took place behind Rosenkranz’s back. He says that city officials had several meetings with her and explained to Rosenkranz that they weren’t excited about the way she was running the hall. “Those meetings never seemed to resonate with her,” McDonald says.

Additionally, McDonald says that the city gave the Eighth Step every opportunity to stay and work with the new management, with Rosenkranz acting as an artistic director.

“We had no major issues with Margie’s dates,” McDonald says. Aside from rescheduling one performance, the Eighth Step’s entire season could have remained intact at the hall, he insists.

“I was looking forward to working with the Eighth Step,” says Charles. “I was shocked when they left. I guess they decided that we just wouldn’t be able to work together.”

But Rosenkranz says that offers made to the Eighth Step to stay on in a limited capacity were vague. “We tried for weeks to get information out of the mayor’s office about what role we were going to play,” she says. “It was obvious that they wanted to assume total control.”

C-R Productions’ programming at the music hall will begin later this month with a Broadway-style revue to benefit the Senior Wellness Program. As for the Eighth Step, Rosenkranz is scrambling to rebook upcoming performances at other venues; some have found refuge at RPI’s West Hall and at the Steamer No. 10 theatre in Albany. Others, like the Eighth Step itself, are still homeless.

—Paul Hamill


The very busy builders: Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

A Picture Is Worth, Well—a Museum

The Five College Area of Western Massachusetts will soon be home to a new museum. Slated to open to the public on Nov. 22 in Amherst is the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Founded by Carle, renowned author and illustrator of more than 70 children’s books (including the 1969 classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar), and his wife Barbara, the 44,000-square-foot museum is situated in a seven-and-a-half-acre apple orchard on land acquired from Hampshire College.

The museum will be dedicated to celebrating and exploring the role of visual art in children’s literature from around the world. It will house three galleries that will feature rotating exhibitions of the work of national and international artists, as well as Carle’s own work. There will also be an art studio offering hands-on activities, classes and demonstrations; a reading library; and a 130-seat auditorium that will host lectures, films and performances.

The museum opens with two exhibits: Maurice Sendak: Inside and Out will be on display through Jan. 12, and The Colorful World of Eric Carle will be up until April 23. The museum is located at 125 West Bay Road, Amherst, Mass. For additional information, call (413) 586-8934 or visit www.picturebookart.org.

—Rebecca A. Morgan


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