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News Briefs: Dec. 2021 / Jan. 2022

Melissa Lesh (right) with her associate producer/assistant editor Mallory Bracken (left) (photo courtesy of Jacob Burns Film Center)

Former Jacob Burns Film Center Resident Sells Documentary to Amazon Studios

A feature documentary by Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC)’s Artist-in-Residence Melissa Lesh was recently acquired by Amazon Studios for $20 million in auction. The bid was a near-record for a documentary acquisition. Lesh utilized her time at JBFC, and resources provided by the Creative Culture residency, to edit the film. The film, co-directed by Trevor Frost, is about a young British soldier who returns from Afghanistan suffering from depression and PTSD. He finds a reason to live when he teams with a woman he recently met to become the caregivers to an injured baby ocelot wildcat. The film is currently in post-production, with no release date set.

Music Conservatory of Westchester Breaks Ground on Transformative Project

Ryan Jennings, President Sentinel Builders; Jean Newton, Executive Director Music Conservatory of Westchester (MCW); Eileen Egan, Executive Director Phelps Hospital; and Robert Heath, Board Trustee Music Conservatory of Westchester breaking ground at Music Conservatory of Westchester (photo courtesy of MCW)

Construction management firm Sentinel Builders LLC recently broke ground on a transformative project to expand the Music Conservatory of Westchester (MCW) in White Plains.  The project will introduce new 21st-century technology to the Conservatory’s music education programs. The expansion will focus on 3,500 square feet of unfinished space on the lower level of the Conservatory building, which will be converted into five exciting new teaching spaces, including a digital piano lab, recording studio, percussion studio and music therapy studio. According to Director Jean Newton, the project’s completion will make MCW “the first music conservatory in Westchester County to provide pre-college training in Sound Engineering and Studio Composition.” Construction will begin in the spring of 2022.

Schoolhouse Theater Presents World Premiere by Renowned Director Martha Clarke 

Schoolhouse Theater will offer its first in-person production since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic: a dramatic world premiere production by MacArthur “Genius” Award-winning director Martha Clarke. CANTICLE (God’s Fool), a dramatic piece about Saint Francis of Assisi, will be presented at the Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden before traveling to Off-Broadway’s La Mama Theatre and the Spoleto Festival in Italy until it returns to the Hammond for a summer reprise. CANTICLE (God’s Fool) will take place from December 30-January 2. 

The ArtsMobile Presented 50 Outdoor Arts Activities at Westchester Sites in 2021

In July 2021, ArtsWestchester’s ArtsMobile was back on the road for the first time since 2019.  As the pandemic brought all in-person activities to a halt, the warm weather was the perfect time to re-emerge providing art-making to communities within Westchester County. Despite going virtual for more than a year, the 2021 season brought the ArtsMobile to over two-dozen locations, such as community organizations, events, festivals and human service agencies, overall offering 50 outdoor art activities and performances to more than 1,250 participants. Sites included White Plains Housing Authority, Port Chester Day Camp, El Centro Hispano, White Plains Youth Bureau, New Rochelle Housing Authority and St Christopher’s, Inc. 

With support from White Plains Hospital and Con Edison, the ArtsMobile provides fun and creative activities for all ages and abilities that reduce stress, calm the mind and encourage self-expression. More than ever, art was used for well-being and healing local communities that have faced adversity during the pandemic.

The ArtsMobile will return with a full schedule of locations and activities throughout the County in March 2022.

Arts for People With Special Needs

ArtsWestchester’s commitment to providing inclusive and accessible arts programs takes many forms, most recently through its Arts for People With Special Needs grant. This funding opportunity, made available in Fall 2021, is supported by Westchester County and the Board of Legislators. Applications were open to eligible social service agencies and local cultural organizations like the Music Conservatory of Westchester and the Institute of Applied Human Dynamics that offer programs designed for individuals with special needs, such as ADD/ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy, deafness, people who are wheelchair dependent, or those experiencing extreme poverty or homelessness. From Fall 2021 through Spring 2022, the funding supports art-engaging workshops that promote personal expression and creativity while also addressing social and developmental objectives like communication, concentration and emotional and physical wellbeing. Overall, more than 400 special needs individuals of all ages will benefit from interactive arts programs.

With this film viewing, I got back into my “while my husband is watching Sunday football, I am going to watch a film he would not like” habits of pre-Covid ritual. Shhh, since he is on a low salt diet, the first thing I did was get popcorn. I sat in a totally dark theatre with comfy great seats and no distractions: no phone, iPad or office in front of me.  No bills or laundry to attend to.  After all, movies are meant to be an escape.


Monthly Web Feature

The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch has a stellar cast: Bill Murray, Adrian Brody, Francés McDormand, Tilda Swinton, just to name a few. It had gorgeous cinematography and a creative use of graphics. It included several stories, which were not tied together (though I wish they were).  However, even taken separately, they still provided dry, laugh-out-loud humor and an ode to great writers who worked for a publication and publisher who didn’t shortchange their talent and perspective. It was funny, well-acted and a delight to the eye. 

Oh, did I tell you I’ve always loved previews?  Well, there are some really good movies coming out soon.  

So plan to watch some in our local theaters, and especially those that support indie films like Jacob Burns Film Center, Bedford Playhouse and The Picture House.

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.​​​​

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