year after being chased from its original location, Miss Mary’s
Art Space continues to nourish openness and experimentalism—
and to search for a place to call home
a Thursday evening in mid-September, and a group of 20-somethings
have gathered in a first-floor apartment at the outer fringe
of Albany’s Center Square neighborhood to put together 250
copies of an arts magazine that will be distributed for free.
The three men and three women who have chosen this activity
after their day’s work are the board of directors of Miss
Mary’s Art Space (aka the Space Without a Space); the magazine—photocopied,
oversized and with a compilation CD inside—is Screed.
There is the buzz of conversation, the rattle of sewing machines,
the squish of linoleum-block ink and the occasional interruptions
of a 7-year-old girl and a big ginger cat needing attention,
as the six collate, stamp, bind and hand-number the copies.
Switching roles as they go, they all take frequent breaks
to sample the homemade vegetarian food that Leah Walsh, the
only member of the group currently between jobs, has prepared.
The smell of fresh olive oil and oregano hangs in the air,
as do the sounds of the first Screed CD, featuring
cuts from Boneoil, Michael Eck, Lincoln Money Shot and lots
Matt Laque (known as Matto), of Kitty Little, hears his band
come on and shouts, “This is yours truly—crank it up!,” and
the Screed production meeting is in full swing. In
a few days, the 14-page Screed #3 will hit the streets,
and the folks behind it will be back at the task of trying
to nail down a permanent home for the most grass rootsy nonprofit
art collective the Capital Region has ever known.
in the spring of 1999, legislative employee Laura Koennecke
had a few creative thoughts on her mind. Among them was the
fact that Koennecke wanted to learn photographic developing,
while her friend Kate Ng, a photographer willing to teach
her, needed a darkroom. They began to talk about making a
space where people could get together and share creative ideas
and abilities, maybe offer some classes, put up some shows.
As Koennecke and Ng talked through the summer, other like-minded
people entered the conversation: Tine Winther and her husband,
Dave Walsh, a musician with a strong grasp of the folk scene;
Karin Maag-Tanchak, a poet who wanted to offer knitting classes;
and Koennecke’s sister Sheryl, a writer and Web designer.
They discussed renting a building, but were concerned about
the costs and responsibilities if they retained private ownership
of the project. They also felt that it would be best to create
something that could live on after their own involvement.
So, in September 1999, with free legal help from the Albany/Schenectady
League of Arts, these six people became the board of directors
of a new nonprofit corporation they dubbed Miss Mary’s Art
Space (after an elderly neighbor with a unique sense of style).
The first event sponsored by Miss Mary’s was a poetry reading
by David Barratier held at Steamer No. 10 in April 2001. That
fall, the group found a storefront at 5 New Scotland Ave.
and began the real experiment: providing a space where it
would be OK to do everything anybody could think of to do
really open and we like that,” says Laura Koennecke. “It’s
fun to be able to say ‘we’re not going to judge you—go out
there and do what you want to do.’ “
This dedication to openness is at the heart of the Miss Mary’s
idea, and comes up again and again in conversations with members
and participants. Matt Toomey, who joined the Miss Mary’s
board of directors last summer, is a musician and full-time
stateworker who caught on to the energy at 5 New Scotland.
came in at a time when things were going really good [at Miss
Mary’s],” Toomey says. “Music was taking off, and visual artists
were coming in because they saw there were these blank walls.”
Among the musicians who got involved were Matto and Tom Burre,
who performs solo as well as with Boneoil and Ghost Names.
“Miss Mary’s was the place to play,” says Burre, “because
you can do whatever there—they’re very open, they say, ‘Here’s
the space, you can do what you want.’ ”
Matto agrees. When he first heard about Miss Mary’s, he immediately
became involved. “I just liked the vibe and started going
to the meetings, and I started doing shows there all the time,”
he says. Matto also began booking some of the acts, taking
up where Dave Walsh had left off.
first hardcore act, Warpipe, played in the spring of 2002,”
Walsh says. “Then all the kid bands stepped up.” Walsh (who
is Leah Walsh’s father) is the elder statesman of the group,
and a chief proponent of its philosophy. “I liked to refer
to Miss Mary’s as a not-for-profit arts organization aiding
and abetting artists of every flavor,” he wrote in the first
issue of Screed.
resumes and auditions were never required of those wishing
to utilize our facility to perform or present their work,”
Walsh continues. “As a result of this policy we were able
to present what I came to believe was some of the finest and
most vibrant artists in the area.”
But this diversity doesn’t come without cost, and the members
of the collective were constantly seeking ways to raise money
without compromising their vision.
one is making a cent off this—in fact, we’re spending money
on it,” Matto says. “Not only do we need help to keep the
diversity of programming going, we need money to support the
According to Koennecke, they’ve considered applying for grants,
but always decided not to, asking themselves, “Do we want
someone controlling what we’re doing? Do we want to be beholden
Instead, they used their creativity and diversity as sources
of funding. “Knitting classes were a mainstay for a while,”
says Walsh. One time, he says, “we raised 7 or 800 bucks with
a ‘cheap art’ show,” where all the pieces cost $10 or less.
Matto also understood the need to support the space. “I really
wanted to see it happen—I didn’t want it to fail, because
it seems like a lot of things get started but they don’t last
in Albany,” he says. “So I began doing benefit shows—we started
raising some money, and it looked like things were going pretty
good—then, bam, the city came and screwed that up.”
What the city did was issue a cease and desist order, in October
2002, that closed the space at 5 New Scotland after someone
complained, possibly about noise or crowds of young people
on the street out front. “To this day we don’t have a clear
answer as to why we were shut down,” Matto says. “They probably
thought we would go away—but they better be ready, ‘cause
we’re coming back.”
In fact, the people who brought us “the little venue that
could” (Walsh again) are now hot on the trail of a new venue.
In the meantime, the dream is alive in the pages of Screed—and
at Mean Time, a current two-month residency in the Chapel
+ Cultural Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that
comprises a gallery exhibition and three nights of music,
poetry and other performances.
At the first two Mean Time events, on Aug. 27 and Sept. 22,
the two performance spaces at the chapel were going full tilt;
the first evening also served as the opening for the all-media
show by local artists; and both nights featured nice food
spreads free of charge (though donations were gladly taken,
discreetly, at the door).
Like Screed, where poetry and other writing, graphic
arts from spray paint to photography and the full range of
local music are published all in one package, an evening at
Mean Time is an eclectic and free-form experience. You can
catch a comedian followed by a harpist in the sanctuary or
a short story writer followed by a metal band in the lounge.
At Mean Time 1, the food was served outside, where
additional performers also entertained. For Mean Time 2, the
buffet tables were brought inside, and the musical acts were
swapped as well, placing the noisier groups in the more intimate
(and acoustically softer) lounge while the
amplification-challenged spoken-word and folk performers enjoyed
the livelier acoustics of the sanctuary.
Either way, it worked. Fans and performers alike were able
to float comfortably from space to space, enjoying the art
and quiet conversation in the hallway gallery between. With
such a variety of forms of expression under one roof, in a
setting that’s different from a bar or nightclub, the Miss
Mary’s organizers have created a unique opportunity that does
seem to justify their efforts—and, besides, who doesn’t enjoy
a self-serve buffet?
terms of quality and style, it’s all over the place—which
is exactly how the Miss Marians want it to be. Though it can
be a satisfying experience to buy a ticket to a show you know
you’ll like by a band you’ve heard, or to go to a big museum
featuring internationally renowned art, there’s plenty to
be said for the chance to check out a whole range of odd stuff
in one place and see whether you’re pleasantly surprised.
Even if you aren’t crazy about any of the individual offerings,
the contrasts alone provide enough stimulation for a night’s
brain food, or ear candy, or whatever it is that turns you
Though Mean Time is not quite the same as Miss Mary’s was
(or will be), it captures the flavor. As Matto says, “We’ve
had punk, folk, jazz, experimental electronic music, avant-garde
art troupes and traveling sideshows—I mean we had some crazy
stuff.” However, not all in one night. Mean Time boils it
down, like getting a month at Miss Mary’s into three hours
at the C+CC. There’s one more night scheduled, from 7 to 10
PM on Oct. 27, and then it’s back to homelessness for the
crew and the artists.
Of course, being without its own performance space for the
past year has cost Miss Mary’s some momentum. “We had a lot
of people ask to book shows—we were starting to draw from
out of town a little bit—but then we had to stop booking people,”
Koennecke says. “Since then we’ve gotten some inquiries, but
we generally say, ‘We’re looking for a space, and we’ll get
back to you when we find one.’ ”
But, she adds, any lost momentum has been offset by the energy
they’ve put into Screed and the Mean Time project.
Besides, she says, the temporary lack of a home has never
blunted the collective’s optimism: “We’ve always assumed that
we would find a space eventually.”
If they do find a space, expect the scene to be as freewheeling
as it was at 5 New Scotland and in Troy, with an open policy
that encourages, well, everything.
a very thought-out decision to do it
. . . openly,” says Koennecke. “Just because people don’t
necessarily recognize something, it doesn’t mean it isn’t
interesting, or worthy of attention.”
And if they don’t find a space right away, don’t expect them
to give up easily.
whole goal [in joining the board] was just to have a physical
location again,” says Toomey. “[There were] oversights that
we’re not going to commit now. . . . We’re ready to go now.
We know about making friends with the people with whom we’re
sharing our city.”
Matto shares this positivity. “You make the best of where
you are,” he says. “There’s a lot that’s going on in Albany
that people could appreciate if they’d just open their eyes.”
about giving people a nudge, saying, ‘Here’s your opportunity,’
” Koennecke says.
Clearly, the artists, writers and performers have gotten the
message. Time will tell whether the powers that be come to
feel the same way.
There will be a general information meeting for Miss Mary’s
Art Space at 6 PM today (Thursday, Oct. 9) at the main branch
of the Albany Public Library. The next Mean Time event will
take place Oct. 27 at 7 PM at RPI’s Chapel + Cultural Center.
For more information or to make a donation toward the effort
to acquire a new venue, write to missmarysartspace@thein box.org
or visit http://missmarysart space.tripod.com.