A Council With Any Other Name Would Be As Sweet

Over many years, I have been asked: “what’s an arts council?” Having cut my teeth, so to speak, on the board of the Queens Council on the Arts, I feel qualified to say that at its simplest, it is a local arts agency that brings programs and resources to a particular locality. In the Sixties, many arts councils sprung up all over this country as local residents in cities and towns yearned for the good life that included the arts in their own backyard. That’s when the Council on the Arts in Westchester, formerly Westchester Arts Council, now ArtsWestchester, was formed by prescient community leaders with a helping hand from then Governor Nelson Rockefeller and his wife, Happy, who blessed the newbie organization with a coming out party at Kykuit.

Arts councils around the world most always begin as service organizations helping artists and arts organizations realize their potential. Soon after their formation, many become funding agencies due to the paltry funds available for the arts. Most then swerve into arts-in-education because it is so vital. Many verge into community planning; some hold festivals; others buy buildings, produce publications and cultural calendars; many engage in public art. The most successful arts councils are unique organizations which morph into being at the heart of arts in the community. In many smallish American cities, the arts council is a lonely arts organization. Most states, many counties and cities, have an arts council, as we have in the New York State Council on the Arts, which distributes state funds called “local assistance”. Many arts councils, like ArtsWestchester, are partnerships with government entities. They are all unique based on what resource they bring to the issues and aspirations of their locality.  ArtsWestchester is the largest, private not-for-profit arts council in New York State. Its headquarters at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue, White Plains is a historic bank built in 1928 as The People’s Bank and Trust. As ArtsWestchester, we are still doing the people’s business albeit in a more artful currency. So stay tuned as we continue to morph with some exciting new plans for the New Year.