How do we make Saugerties “cooler”? On the rainy Sunday that culminated the month-long Shout Out Saugerties festivities, a panel of Saugertiesians discussed that subject in the pews of the Saugerties Reformed Church, using the suggestions jotted down on the community board situated beside Lucky’s chocolate as a springboard.
Police chief Joe Sinagra, town board candidate John Schoonmaker, Long Spoon Collective founder Lala Montoya, and local artist and ex-councilwoman Nancy Campbell described their visions of a revitalized Saugerties. Among the topics discussed were the establishment of a village green, creating an arts district on King’s Highway, showcasing more local artists, and an assortment of other ways in which locals can get more involved in local decision-making.
Suggestions written on the wall over its month-long installation were varied. They included a permanent board for job postings in the community, a crackdown by law-enforcement on violators of noise ordinances and those who don’t pick up after their defecating dogs, an artists’ residency, a dog park, a sculpture park “to rival Storm King,” improved crosswalks, a community recreation center, a cat café, a pool, regular buses to New York City and “more flamingoes.”
The feasibility of many of these ideas remains to be seen. Local public officials have taken note of the suggestions, though, as evidenced by trustee Jeff Helmuth’s presence at this culminating forum.
“What makes Saugerties unique is community involvement,” said chief Sinagra. “My vision for the future of Saugerties is really predicated on community involvement. Let’s not shortchange what we already have. We have [things] that no one else in Ulster County has: Cantine, HITS, the garlic festival. We’re the last community [here] with a municipal TV station.”
Community involvement was manifest in the Shout Out events. The speakers donated their thoughts and time throughout the month. Just three organizers managed a schedule of 35 events for the purpose of bettering the community.
“We learned so much from the this first festival about what works, what doesn’t, that it’s tempting to do it again, just so you can do better. From the encouragement and support of the community, it appears, theoretically, Shout Out could happen again,” said Suzanne Bennett, chief organizer of the arts month. “To continue its presence, and have another festival, it would take a longer planning period with more people involved in the organizing and running. I started planning in earnest in June. Jeremy Russell and Susana Meyer became partners soon after.
The three people were at the helm, with Jeremy concentrating on the website and Susana on Facebook and social media. “Doing 35 events is brutal, if you oversee all,” said Bennett. “We even manned the box office for the Americana music series. More people resources, larger monetary sources, would make it more likely.”
In the final weekend of the series, Barry Benepe and produce vendors discussed the connection between community and farmers’ markets, which according to Benepe “bring the richness of the land around us into the village and make farms meaningful, not just as scenery but as food, nutrition and people.”
An unprecedented number of onlookers came to watch local comics slated at Bella Luna, leaving late arrivals to scrounge for standing room. A panel of local writers, Kate McLaughlin, Nancy Kline, Phillip Pardi, Edwin Sanchez and Carmen Henriquez, converged at the Inquiring Minds bookstore to share penned immigrant experiences, many of which were personal. Too Lazy Boys entertained onlookers with an authentic Americana experience, and performance artist Linda Montano sang personalized songs softly into the ears of eventgoers in the persona of Bob Dylan.
“Arts are super-important to this community. We have great resources in our artists,” said Nancy Campbell at the final forum. “The arts are very present in Saugerties, and are a viable means of economic development.”