Monthly Archives: March 2012

Center for the Arts

The second meeting of Amsterdam residents and representatives of established creative and support groups from surrounding communities met Tuesday evening at 305 East Main Street in Amsterdam, New York, to further develop Mayor Ann Thane’s vision establishing a Community Art Center for the recently vacated building.

The group members represent a variety of ages, ethnicities, talent and experience with the common goal of utilizing the former church building as a vehicle for creative expression and education. Attendance at last night’s meeting indicated a 30% increase from the first meeting on March 15, 2012.

The City of Amsterdam has been very supportive of sports and recreation, investing money in the continued improvement of Shuttleworth Park, the home of the Amsterdam Mohawks, and Riverlink Park for boaters and the Summer Concert Series. What is lacking is a Center for the Arts, an outlet for creative expression for all age groups.

With the decline in government support of our school system, it is unfortunate that art and music programs are the first to be eliminated. It is not just students who suffer from this educational blight, it is also the communities who lose out on the next Kirk Douglas, Steven Spielberg, Ansel Adams, Frida Kahlo or Steven King.

The Center for the Arts can fill that gap with little or no cost, providing a physical place for use as a meeting space for established groups, a learning center to nurture creative talents, a performance place for music & theater and as a gallery space for displaying the work of local artists. The Center will be self-sustaining through fund-raising efforts, grant writing and rental fees for use of the space to community groups.  A formal organizational plan was written and a business study completed by Jessica Murray, President of the Mohawk Valley Creative Alliance, indicating the need as there is no Center for the Arts within a 45 minute drive of the City of Amsterdam.

The misconception that may people have when they hear the word Art is that it is just the physical act of drawing or painting. The creative arts are so much more than that, encompassing a range of activities.  A small list would include writing, creating music, dance, acting, singing, cooking, photography, cinematography, illustration, animation, graphic design, sculpture, pottery and the list goes on.

The proposed Center for the Arts will be able to introduce both young an old to a world of possibilities they never imagined for themselves. In 1974 Actress Tatum O’Neil won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe at age 10 for her 1973 performance in Paper Moon. Ann Mary Robertson Moses better known as Grandma Moses, started her art career at age 70 after being introduced to painting as therapy for her advancing arthritis. Her 1943 painting Sugaring Off sold at auction in 2006 for $1.2 million. These achievements were possible because their talent was nurtured by an introduction to the creative arts.

A Center for the Arts in Amsterdam will be that vehicle to drive creative talent in our own community to places they never thought possible. The Creative Arts bring a community together, crossing political, socio-economic and cultural barriers.

You can help this effort by calling or emailing your Aldermen and let them know that you support an Amsterdam Center for the Arts.

Categories: Amsterdam, Art, Business, Media, Photography, Politics, Technology | Tags: , , ,

R2-D2, it is you, It Is You !

By day they are real estate agents, blueprint makers and highway department employees but when they clock out they become Storm Troopers, Boba Fett and R2-D2.  Chris Simonds, Bob Thayer and Tim Harris are members of Garrison Excelsior, the 501st Legion of Upstate, New York. They pride themselves as being the World’s Definitive Imperial Costuming Organization, specializing in Star Wars characters.

This group paid a visit to a full house of the Mohawk Valley Creative Alliance monday night at the Coffee Beanery in Amsterdam, New York along with a working replica of R-2D-2 operated by remote control with all the authentic sounds, lights and movements you would expect. The handmade costumes sanctioned by George Lucas, are incredibly detailed down to the scratches and wear marks seen in the original movie versions.

Garrison Excelsior participates in Comic-Con conventions and make charitable appearances for Star Wars fans young and old. Chris Simonds R-2D-2 Unit even made an appearance on the Today Show in New York.

After a presentation explaining how their passion is turned into real costumes using ordinary equipment and some made to order parts from specialty shops, the costuming trio held a hands on demonstration followed by a question and answer period.

A big shout out to Jessica Murray and the Mohawk Creative Alliance for arranging this extraordinary presentation!

The Mohawk Valley Creative Alliance is advocating for the use of City owned property at 305 East Main Street  as a Community Art Center. With the large number of members that attended last night’s event, they are going to need a larger meeting space!

Categories: Amsterdam, Art, Entertainment, Photography, Technology | Tags: , , , , ,

Mohawk Valley Creative Alliance

The Mohawk Valley Creative Alliance is a local group of artists, writers, musicians and photographers who have met the second two Mondays of every month for the past two years at the Coffee Beanery in the Town of Amsterdam. The group was formed by Carol Jordan and Jessica Murray who serve as Vice President and President of MVCA, for the sole purpose of creating an Art Center for the Amsterdam community.

I heard about the group last year and had the good intention of becoming a member but never got around to it. That was until Carol Jordan sent me an email insisting that I come to their meeting (she’s the strong-arm of the group).  I complied and found a wonderful group of like-minded people who shared ideas in a thoughtful and meaningful way.  The group is led by Jessica Murray who holds a Fine Arts degree and is educated in Art Therapy. Murray was also primarily responsible for creating a business plan and the bylaws for the groups incorporation.  She is very focused on the art community and presents creative challenges for the group to complete each month which consist of a themed exercise to be completed in each person’s specific media. Whether it be writing, photography, painting, acting or even dance, all the presentations are discussed by the group members.

Last week, members of the MVCA met with Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane to discuss the Mayor’s proposed Community Art Center in the former Church building on East Main Street and Vrooman Ave that now serves as the 5th Ward polling place. It was recently vacated by St Mary’s Hospital staff who were using the building as a mental health outreach center.  The building at 305 East main Street has 3,567 square feet of usable space and a playground behind it that would serve the community well.

MVCA encourages everyone in the Amsterdam community to support Mayor Thane with her vision of a community Art Center in the City’s building at 305 East Main Street.

Categories: Amsterdam, Art, Media, Photography, Politics, Technology | Tags: , , , , ,

Riverlink Park Needs Help!

As temperatures soar into the 70’s this week, Amsterdamians are taking to the streets in droves to enjoy the weather. The sound of basketballs hitting the pavement can be heard as kids abandon their electronic games and rediscover the outdoors. In tune with this movement I decided to revisit Riverlink Park, the gem of Amsterdam that occupied my Saturday nights last summer during the Riverlink Park Concert Series.

What I found was little progress since the first flood cleanup.  From the speech by Recreation Director Rob Spagnola during a City Council Meeting last month, I was under the impression that the needed repairs were completed, that all we needed were the floating docks to be ready for the season. My impression was wrong. There is a LOT of work to be done to get the park ready for the season. The City was reimbursed for the repairs but none of the lampposts destroyed by the flooding were replaced, the benches are in poor shape, some needing new wood, all needing painting. There are exposed wires where the boat hookups used to be. The shoreline of the western section of the park is still strewn with debris from the flooding. There are sharp pieces of twisted aluminum where the docks used to attach to the retaining wall.

Although a new storage shed was built for the concession building and repairs to the building were completed, it does not seem that any of the other work is being done so that we can ALL enjoy the park by the river.  I did notice a City of Amsterdam utility truck parked in front of the concession building, but did not see any employees present.

This park represents Amsterdam on the Eric Canal National Heritage Corridor.  It is time we cleaned our stoop.

Categories: Amsterdam, History, Photography | Tags: , ,

Letter to the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors

March 7, 2012

Montgomery County Board of Supervisors

County Annex Building P.O. Box 1500 Fonda, New York 12068

I was very dismayed today when I read an article in the March 7th edition of The Leader Herald entitled County to Distribute Tourism Funds. In the article it was stated that the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors voted to award taxpayer money to the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs for a Catholic canonization ceremony. Although the amount was minor ($750), it violates the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.

The US Supreme Court in the 1947 ruling Everson v. Board of Education interpreted this as meaning financial support. In the ruling, Justice Hugo Black stated (in part):

No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between church and State”.

While I understand the intention as was to promote tourism, it crosses a line established by the Federal government.

From their website we learn that The Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs is clearly a Catholic organization owned and run by the North American Martyrs Society who’s stated purpose is:

To promote knowledge and veneration of the North American Martyrs…and to emulate to the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church and their witness to a non-believing culture.

The Director of the North American Martyr Society is Fr. George Belgarde, S.J. (a Jesuit Priest) and the Staff consists of Fr. Robert McGuire, S.J. and four lay people. This is clearly not a secular purpose for government funding.

I respectfully request that the resolution approved to allocate this money to the Catholic organization be rescinded.


Gerald J. Skrocki

Update #1:

Yesterday I received the following response from the Chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors.

Update #2:

Dan Weaver wants some of the attention but refuses to post my name, the name of my blog or any of my comments on his online publication:

Of course there was no problem with verifying my identity. I would have respected his right not to post my comment at all, but to compound the situation with an outright lie discredits Weaver’s publication.

Update #3:

The legal team from Americans United for Separation of Church and State send a letter to the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors.

Update #4:

The Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs declines the grant from the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors. From an article published in the Recorder, written by reporter Heather Nellis, the Shrine event coordinator Beth Lynch states:

“We are what we are — a highly visible and deeply Catholic entity. We’re glad that we can contribute to the economy as far as tourism is concerned, but that’s not our main focus — we are a Catholic shrine, and we’re not going to agree that we have to do something on secular terms.”

This is exactly the point I have been trying to convey all along. No secular purpose = no public funding.

Categories: Amsterdam, Human Rights, Law, Media, Politics | Tags: , , , ,

Holland Garden Apartments

Much has been reported recently about Holland Garden Apartments in Amsterdam, New York.  Reporter Jarrett Carroll of the Recorder has written several excellent articles describing the deteriorating conditions of the large apartment complex at the intersection of Rt 67 and Clizbe Avenue. A recent HUD inspection described the conditions as unsanitary and rated it 47 out of 100, giving the owners two weeks to rectify the deficiencies and threatening a takeover by an outside management company.

An article published in today’s edition of the Recorder stated 13 complaints were filed directly with the City of Amsterdam Codes Department with no action taken.  The Mayor denies any knowledge of the situation, despite being the acting Supervisor of that Department since firing the last City Engineer and taking that responsibility away from the current Engineer, creating a new position of Code Enforcement Supervisor. After the first year, funding for that position was cut by the Common Council.

The Mayor shall appoint such Code Enforcement Supervisor, Building Inspectors, Housing Inspectors, Plumbing Inspectors, Electrical Inspectors and Code Enforcement Officers as shall from time to time be authorized by the Common Council, which inspectors and officers shall serve at the Mayor’s discretion. The Code Enforcement Supervisor shall have the responsibility for registration of and investigation into any and all bona-fide code violation complaints pertaining to new construction, existing buildings commercial or residential and the Zoning Ordinance.

There is no question that we need help in the Code Enforcement Department. Our laws and ordinances are meaningless without the personnel to enforce them. What I find odd is that there seems to be no problem with enforcing code when it comes to the properties owned by the World Peace and Health Organization.

I take personal interest in the Holland Gardens situations because I lived there for six years before buying my house three years ago.  Like many of the residents there, I found the apartment complex to be a pleasant place to live. The location was convenient and the price was right.  For three years I lived in one of the three bedroom units with two roommates. When they moved on, I was given the opportunity to move into a two bedroom unit that was recently renovated after a fire.  An outside contractor  did a nice job with the renovation, everything was new.

This was the exception to the rule. All of the other apartments were in rough shape with worn carpets, several layers of paint on the cabinets, old appliances, tile falling off shower units etc.  But the condition of this new apartment went downhill fast.  A roof leak in May 2006 sent water rushing through every light fixture, smoke alarm, wall switch, door and window frame on the second floor. The ceilings, walls and carpeting were drenched. It soaked everything stored in my closets and even found its way down to the first floor where it soaked the ceilings and walls.

I was told that a tarp was put over the roof until a contractor could repair it properly. In the meantime, I was left to empty buckets of water that was rushing in my apartment. I asked management when repairs to my apartment would be done and was told by Michael Medwid that they would do no repairs or painting until the apartment was vacated for the next tenant. I was given a fan. That was the only assistance offered by the management of the complex. I feared for mold or a problem with the light fixtures and switches that were soaked. It was another two and a half years before I was able to move out.

I understand the plight of those who live there, afraid to this day to complain to management. Many fear retaliation, having little or no means to move or live elsewhere. It is pure greed that fuels the SHE Corporation, putting aside necessary repairs for profit and playing on the ignorance and fears of the tenants, many who lack the means or knowledge to do something about it.

I hope HUD takes the necessary action to put an outside management company in charge of the complex and hits SHE Corporation in the pocketbook with fines. Without this action there will be no change.

Categories: Amsterdam, Law, Media, Politics | Tags: , , ,

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