Fall 2021

Art Always in All Ways

By Lauren Hurwitz

Music lovers can rejoice! The county’s signature music event, the 10th Annual JazzFest White Plains will once again grace the streets and parks of the center of the county, and the ArtsWestchester historic building. From September 9th to 12th, there will be live, in-person performances from musicians like Erena Terakubo, Emmet Cohen, Ravi Coltrane, Theo Croker and rising Jazz stars. Plus, those at home will have the chance to watch many of the concerts via livestreams on the ArtsWestchester website. 

But just how do incredible artistic events like this come to fruition? For 56 years, ArtsWestchester has been the premiere funder of the arts in the Westchester and Rockland communities. ArtsWestchester CEO Janet Langsam (photo) says their very robust grants program is funded by the county and the state with grants fitting into a variety of different categories such as basic support, project grants, special needs grants and even education grant programs. “There is a plethora of opportunities for organizations to apply and receive funding. The organizations and artists that receive grants from us mean a lot to them beyond the money. Being funded by ArtsWestchester appears to have another benefit – almost like a stamp of good approval. There is clout to have our name behind it because we have a panel process in which we review applications in terms of the organization’s history, what kind of programming they’re creating, their equity and diversity profile. And on top of that, their artistic merit,” says Langsam.

In addition to the demanding work that goes into determining which organizations will receive grants, the COVID crisis has presented its own profound challenges for the ArtsWestchester community. At the end of 2020, Langsam put out a call to artists and asked them to send in works they made during the crisis. Together, these pieces created this past summer’s “Together apART” exhibit showcasing what they made during this time alone in their studios. Langsam said they received over 500 different submissions including poetry, video, visual arts, sculpture and more.  

Another success during the COVID period was the creation of the virtual ArtsMobile workshops showcasing sculpture, collage, music, drumming and all disciplines that can be enjoyed easily and inexpensively with materials people typically have in their home. Plus, artists were able to get paid for their work and be featured on ArtsWestchester’s YouTube page. “COVID has taught us that in person arts are really important – but online arts reach many more people. There is probably a combination of both in the arts as we head into the next decade. Over 5,000 people will see one of our online workshops as opposed to only 30 via Zoom,” says Langsam.  

The organization’s work within our diverse neighborhoods goes way back to before the start of COVID. For over 30 years, ArtsWestchester has maintained deep roots with the mentally challenged community in the region, working closely with the County Department of Mental Health. This month, visitors to ArtsWestchester’s main building in White Plains can enjoy an exhibit called, “Visions,” which features works created by those with mental challenges. Langsam says, “Everybody needs a psychiatrist sometimes. But sometimes we need another way to express ourselves.” After “Visions,” the main building will open the next exhibit, “Who Writes History,” an exhibition that seeks to foreground underrepresented peoples, places, and events in an effort to work towards a more inclusive recounting of the past and present. 

Touching community issues is nothing new for ArtsWestchester where they have shined a light on other important and controversial topics such as gender identity with last year’s “SHE” exhibit focusing on how women see themselves, and various opportunities to highlight immigration.  “We are very attuned to the immigrant population in Westchester and the fact that county residents come from all different countries and places. Through our summer Westchester Roots (music) program, we try to represent traditions and customs of all kinds of people from different places,” says Langsam. For example, they have supports performances showcasing Ecuador, West Africa, Latin American and other places with the “goal of rebuilding these audiences that have had a pent-up demand to be in person, and experience the arts and celebrate together,” says Langsam.  

When reflecting on the past 19 months, Langsam says, “We were very fortunate that our funders and particularly the county and state continued their funding once COVID hit. Not one of the organizations we funded around the time of COVID did not make it through. A lot of it is credited to the fact that our funders allowed us to be more flexible in giving those grants out. It was a lot of work trying to convert these to online activities, but we did. We helped our organizations produce and present online concerts, streaming workshops and everything under the sun.” 

Langsam believes people have a new appreciation for the arts now that the worst of the pandemic seems to have passed. “I think people have missed live performances, they want to be together and have a real appreciation for how important it is to have creativity in your life.” For those who crave more of the arts, becoming a member of ArtsWestchester is a wonderful option to ensure they learn about the latest art opportunities, events, exclusive invitations in the county and keep their finger on the artistic pulse.