Arts Alive LI Kicks Off Month-Long Celebration of Art and Music on Long Island

The Third Annual Arts Alive LI kicks off its month-long celebration this weekend! From left: Arts Alive LI poster contest winners include these three works by McKensi Pascall, Alexandro Vasquez and Audrey Zhang.

The third annual Arts Alive LI Arts Month featuring more than 200 concerts, dance performances, art exhibitions, parades and festivals in more than 40 venues across Long Island kicks off next week.

A host of dignitaries from Nassau and Suffolk counties joined a handful of talented young local artists in announcing the line-up Wednesday at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, one of the venues hosting some of the events.

“We want everyone to think of October as Arts Month,” said Theresa Statz-Smith, executive director of the Long Island Arts Alliance, a not-for-profit arts umbrella group that collaborated with Bethpage Federal Credit Union to launch Arts Alive LI. “We’re trying to showcase Long Island’s arts and culture under one big umbrella with a month-long celebration.”

The first big event is the Free Family Arts Festival on Saturday, Sept. 27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Nassau’s Museum Row, which includes the Cradle of Aviation and the Long Island Children’s Museum. The main stage will feature acts like the Jen Chapin Trio, the Central Islip Choir, Lena and the Happy Clam Band and Pursuing JC. Other musicians will perform on a recital stage sponsored by Music & Arts, a Maryland-based company that bills itself as “the nation’s largest school music retailer and lesson provider” and has just opened three locations on the Island.

And that’s just a taste of the cultural happenings scheduled for the weeks to come, ranging from Broadway singer Betty Buckley performing at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag harbor to the Edgar Allen Poe Festival in Riverhead and the “Taking it to the Street” urban art show at the Studio 5404 Art Space in Massapequa.

“Arts Alive LI was created to generate awareness and excitement for the wealth and breadth of culture and entertainment right here on Long Island,” said Linda Armyn, senior vice president of Bethpage Federal Credit Union. “Together, we can share all that Long Island has to offer!”

Kirk Kordeleski, chief executive officer of Bethpage Federal Credit Union and chairman of the Long Island Association (LIA), emphasized how important all these cultural arts organizations are to the Island’s economy and quality of life.

“The arts and culture industry is a great resource for Long Island,” he said. “It’s an economic engine, providing skills and high paying jobs that cannot be outsourced.”

Kevin Law, president and CEO of the LIA and co-chair of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, added that the council has funneled “a million dollars” of state funding to a large array of cultural organizations on the Island ranging from the Long Island Children’s Museum to the East End Arts Alliance.

Roger Tilles, chairman of the Long Island Arts Alliance, explained the underlying philosophy behind Arts Alive LI.

“It was to show that even though we’re in the shadow of New York City, which tends to make people feel that somehow we’re second class, we’re not,” he said. “We have world-class art, music, dance and drama here on Long Island. We take a back seat to no one.”

Tilles, also LI’s representative on the state Board of Regents, touted the “tremendous contribution” of the arts to the quality of life on LI, due in no small part to the art and music education in local schools. He hopes to build on this as chairman of the Regent’s new Blue Ribbon Commission on Arts Assessment, a panel studying a “new arts pathway” to graduation, an alternative high school diploma based on visual arts, dance, music and theater—a program he hopes will debut next year. Tilles said “the arts really foster beauty and creativity, and so much of education has been against that and in favor of regimentation, memorization and non-creativity.”

Proof that LI’s schools are a fountainhead of creative talent came when Robbie Rosen, an American Idol season 10 semifinalist, sang the national anthem at the kick-off press conference. Now a music major at Hofstra University, Rosen was a junior at Calhoun High School in Merrick when he got to be “one of the top eight boys” on the hit show.

“The arts have truly been a blessing for my entire life,” Rosen said. “I don’t know where I’d be without them.”

On display in the museum lobby were the winning entries from the Arts Alive LI 2014 Poster Contest, which will go on exhibit next month at the Long Island Children’s Museum. All told the judges winnowed 170 submissions down to 10. On hand was the grand-prize winner, Audrey Zhang, a sixth grader at Island Trees Memorial Middle School in Levittown, whose colorful poster was designed to answer the question: “What place on Long Island inspires the artist in you?”

She also won this year’s national Doodle 4 Google prize. Her art teacher, Karen McNally, gushed about her star pupil’s ability, which first came to light when the budding young artist drew caricatures of her fellow kindergartners.

“I knew she had talent when she entered kindergarten,” said McNally. “Another teacher brought her artwork to me and said: ‘Wow! Can you believe this is from a 5-year-old?’”

For Zhang’s Arts Alive LI prize, she was given an Apple mini-iPad and a $500 gift certificate, courtesy Bethpage Federal Credit Union. The other prize-winning artists came from a scattering Nassau and Suffolk schools—one was even homeschooled—with two winners from Connetquot High School in Bohemia.

Alexandro Vasquez, now in 11th grade, got $50 for his poster, which showed the Robert Moses Causeway Bridge photo-shopped with a sky swirling with colors and smoke, plus a shadowy silhouette of a photographer in the foreground. Vasquez, who plans to become a commercial artis, called his creation, “Behind Reality.” He said: “It’s not just a simple picture of a bridge—it could be more than that.”

“This is what he wants to do,” said his art teacher, Erica Martino-Lattuga. “He’s very talented.”

Soon, thanks to Arts Alive LI, Vasquez and the other winners will have their first museum show.

“Exhibiting the artwork of our community’s children is one way to encourage them to value and participate in the visual arts and develop the next generation of audiences for galleries and museums across Long Island,” said Suzanne LeBlanc, president of the Long Island Children’s Museum.

And so, from Sept. 27 to Oct. 31, Long Island will come alive with art, music and performances. For a complete list of events plus discount coupons and the chance to win prizes like an “East End Family Getaway” or a “Long Beach Artventure,” visit artsaliveli.org and click on “Passport.” Many events, such as the community festivals and parades, are free.

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