Art and state’s prosperity

When I wrote the Eye column “It is one state, stupid”, I was thinking about the potential enhanced connections between the “City” and “upstate” like finance and upstate generated tech, farm to market and our shared natural environment. I overlooked one of New York’s great strengths, art and the creative industry and how it could change the perception of upstate from a dull place that time had passed by to an interesting and dynamic place.
New York City is the world capital of the arts. Upstate New York complements this fact with its good share of high quality fine art in collections large and small. But who knows this?
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, Munson-Williams-Proctors Arts Institute in Utica, and Hyde Museum in Glens Falls all have distinguished collections. Albany is well represented by 19th and 20th century visual art at the historic Albany Institute of History and Art and the 92 paintings, sculptures and tapestries (including painters like Ellsworth Kelly, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Franz Kline at the Empire State Plaza Art collection. Visit the Arkell Museum at Canajoharie along the Mohawk River you will discover paintings by American artist including Winslow Homer and Georgia O’Keeffe. And, there many other gems like the Adirondack Museum, Art Omi and the Storm King Arts Center.
Upstate art for the most part escapes public attention. If there an art tour of upstate exists, it has escaped my attention. The crowds I see at art museums and galleries in New York City are not to be found in upstate museums and galleries. What can be found is creative industry. The numbers on creative industries in New York State Congressional Districts are found on It shows, for example, our Capital Region outpacing Las Vegas and Sacramento, California when it comes to arts-related business.
Let us do some strategic thinking about how upstate could grow its arts-related businesses and become a world class destination for art lovers.
We can begin with the already noted fine collections of visual arts to be found in upstate New York and add to that upstate’s landscape including the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains and Niagara Falls amongst other scenic wonders that were highlighted to the world by the Hudson River School painters. Not bad, or so I think. But it will take more than marketing to get the message across though marketing is important.
What is missing outside of New York City is collaboration and the dynamic eye catching public art that will catch the public’s attention and direct it to upstate’s art, landscape and heritage.
Public Art
About 20 years ago, give or take, a mid-western wheat field was growing in Lower Manhattan where you will now find Battery Park City. An environmental artist took advantage of some open land created by fill and planted wheat as a public art/installation project. The result was a visual of a wheat field in front of the skyscrapers of Manhattan. Public art moves art outside of the museum and gallery to provide a commentary on the landscape at large.
New York City has had a number of public art projects like the Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan Island, a floating barge inspired by earthworks artist Robert Smithson and realized by Minetta Brooks, a nonprofit arts organization, and the Whitney Museum, Jeanne Claude Christo’s Gates woven throughout Central Park and more recently the Waterfalls called “a symbol of the energy and vitality that we have been bringing back to our waterfront in all five boroughs”.
The Great Depression generated a great deal of public art that in many places has endured for generations. Percent for art’s programs like the one former Mayor Koch signed into law in 1982 carried that tradition and bring art to the subway, public squares and courthouses.
Now if we could: (a) harness the existing art of the State including upstate museums and galleries to collaborate on one grand summer art exposition across the State; and
(b) Capture the imagination of one or more public artists and provide them the funding to design and realize a “Waterfalls” or theatrical piece for the whole state symbolizing our statewide heritage, natural resources and creativity,
We would polish the image of the whole state as larger than the sum of its parts that include NYC and create a dynamic to generate a revitalized economy and quality of life from the streets of New York to the villages, cities and landscape of upstate New York.
Let us hope this is an idea that has legs.



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