A Roadmap for Recovery of the Arts

Lyndhurst (photo courtesy of Lyndhurst) RIGHT: Artwork from Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden by Vinnie Bagwell (courtesy of the artist)

Over the past five years, ArtsWestchester has been contemplating the establishment of a cultural plan for Westchester.  The county has changed significantly since the organization partnered with the County in creating the last plan almost thirty years ago with consultants Adams and Goldbar. A new plan is being promoted by ArtsWestchester as the creative sector recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As Westchester slowly emerges from the pandemic after living without the arts for nearly two years, it is more important than ever that we create a roadmap to restart the cultural sector and its economic impact,” says ArtsWestchester CEO Janet Langsam. 

“On the other hand, while the pandemic has put the arts on life support, we do see a surge in creativity, a hunger for cultural activities and a need for community re-building.”

ArtsWestchester Chairman John Peckham adds: “There is no doubt that the arts will be a key player in Westchester’s next chapter. The creation of a strategic, long-term cultural plan is essential in ensuring the recovery of Westchester’s economy.” 

Pre-COVID, the arts played a vital role in the County’s $2.1 billion tourism industry, and contributed to the renowned quality of life for residents.  The County’s museums, historic sites, theaters, galleries and film centers are all cultural destinations that drive people to its downtowns, restaurants and retail stores. 

With both the population and the creative landscape of Westchester in a state of regrowth, the County is at the threshold of what could be a new Renaissance of cultural activity. 

Says Laura deBuys, President and Executive Director of The Picture House Regional Film Center: “A cultural plan for Westchester is essential given changing demographics and an increasingly diverse and vibrant arts community.”

DeBuys adds: “A robust assessment and plan will help each arts nonprofit to have greater impact by developing programming that meets the needs of our community, now and in the future.”  

Grassroots arts venues are emerging in all corners of the County, new investments in stalled cultural assets are fueling capital spending and rehiring of workers in the creative sector. This threshold signals a time that is ripe for the creation of a new multi-year plan.

Explains Waddell Stillman, President of Historic Hudson Valley: “Westchester deserves a strategy for the arts and culture sector. Post-pandemic, census-wise, and for celebrating diversity and promoting belonging – for seniors, singles, families and kids. Enhancing excellence and reaching the underserved.”  

Stillman continues: “Artists are passionate, and a cultural plan will help us channel our passions and creativity to audiences County-wide.” 

Says Langsam: “COVID-19 has leveled much of the cultural programming in the County. This presents a critical opportunity to both restart the arts and also reevaluate and reposition what the arts means to our population.”

Over the coming year, ArtsWestchester will be raising funds to initiate a plan that is aimed at building arts audiences and engaging the needs of Westchester residents, visitors and the arts community. Potential outcomes of a comprehensive planning process could include: cultural asset mapping, an updated economic impact survey, a deeper understanding of how residents value the arts as a part of life in Westchester, recommendations for how to make the County more sustainable for creative workers and artists, and areas of opportunity for making the arts more inclusive and diverse.

A version of this article first appeared in the December 2021-January 2022 issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.​​​​

Katonah Museum of Art (photo from ArtsWestchester archives)
A photo from a summer concert at Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts (photo credit: Gabe Palacio)
About ArtsWestchester

For more than 50 years, ArtsWestchester has been the community’s connection to the arts. Founded in 1965, it is the largest private not-for-profit arts council in New York State. Its mission is to create an equitable, inclusive, vibrant and sustainable Westchester County in which the arts are integral to and integrated into every facet of life. ArtsWestchester provides programs and services that enrich the lives of everyone in Westchester County. ArtsWestchester helps fund concerts, exhibitions and plays through grants; brings artists into schools and community centers; advocates for the arts; and builds audiences through diverse marketing initiatives. In 1998, ArtsWestchester purchased the nine-story neo-classical bank building at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue which has since been transformed into a multi-use resource for artists, cultural organizations and the community. A two-story gallery is located on the first floor of ArtsWestchester’s historic building on Mamaroneck Avenue. artsw.org