By Jann Wiswall
A Few Facts: Seth Wochensky never aspired to run a community arts organization. As an independent documentary film maker, a cameraman for advertising agencies and a part-time musician (he plays many instruments, but now his passion is the sousaphone), he was happy getting involved as a volunteer with the Springville Center for the Arts.
“My first real contribution to SCA was to build a toilet chase to keep the sounds from an upstairs apartment’s flushes from being heard in the downstairs theater when our building was at 35 East Main Street,” he said.
That rather practical contribution, and many others, eventually led him to a position on SCA’s board, and then to an administrative director’s role on a part-time basis.
After several years living outside of the area, Wochensky and his family returned to Springville and, in 2010, he was appointed as the organization’s first full-time executive director with administrative, fundraising and management responsibilities.
He said, “While living away from New York, I realized I enjoyed grant writing, working with volunteers, strategic planning. So when we came back and the board chair approached me about the job, I jumped at the opportunity.”
Q: Springville Center for the Arts is undergoing an apparent renaissance of late and is renovating two buildings right now. How did that come about?
A: Back in 2006, it had become obvious that the old Main Street location was inadequate for SCA’s needs, so the board launched a capital campaign, raised $100,000 in three months, and purchased the former Baptist church at 37 North Buffalo St. in 2007. The organization then raised additional funds from the New York State Historic Preservation Office, the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo, the New York State Council on the Arts, Erie County, the Springville-Griffith Community Education Foundation and individual donors to make exterior and structural repairs and add a second-story classroom addition. The building currently is undergoing interior renovations to create increased theater seating, more gallery hanging space and additional rehearsal and performance spaces.
The center also recently acquired the building at 5 East Main St., an historic structure that had been vacant for years. Construction has begun, but currently it’s nothing but a two-story façade. We’ll be creating an Arts Café, a gallery, artist-in-residence spaces and a publicly accessible “green roof” where vegetables and flowers will grow. There will be a “gray water” collection system that will be used to irrigate the gardens and other efforts will be made to make the building as green as possible, within the confines of historic building status rules.
But it is important to note that the physical spaces we inhabit don’t define the organization. Our reach into the community does.
Q: Have the organization’s goals changed to help you extend that reach?
A: Absolutely. A few years ago, the board and I took a full year to do a comprehensive strategic plan. We talked to everyone both within and outside of the organization. We came to two main conclusions in the process.
One is that the economic climate in Springville is such that we can’t continue to rely on local businesses for as much support as in the past. Instead, we’re now looking at how we can have a direct impact on improving the economy ourselves and passing those benefits on to our area businesses.
To that end, we started the annual summer Art Crawl that last year brought 1,000 people from all over the area to Springville to enjoy the art as well as the shops and services the village has to offer. Our summer children’s camps have become incredibly successful, and those, too, bring people into the area, who in turn help the local economy. We’re working on many other ways to attract more people to these kinds of activities.
The second conclusion we came to is that we want to build a culture of arts participation in the community.
Some people are naturally inspired to seek out artistic endeavors. They already attend performances and exhibits. In a small community like ours, though, the number of those folks is finite. We want to bring art, theater, music and other events to more people — by going into the schools, bringing students to us for field trips and interactive activities, attracting artists-in-residence who take their work into the community and by creating audience participation events.
Q: What types of participatory events do you have coming up?
A: We’re hosting an “It’s a Wonderful Life” Radio Drama Workshop that begins on Dec. 3. Anyone who can read aloud is invited to audition and help produce a show that will be performed as a live radio broadcast on WSPQ 1330AM on Dec. 20 and 21 with a live audience in the theater. There’s no memorization or physical acting required, just voice acting for the microphone.
This is a fabulous learning experience for people of all ages, and is the type of programming we hope to offer on a regular basis to get people involved, interested and active in all sorts of creative endeavors.