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August 10, 2009

My Turn: Much on the horizon for Foothills Center

This week’s “My turn” column is by Jennifer McDowall, executive director of Foothills Performing Arts Center in Oneonta.

Picture the horizon. Actual. Symbolic. It is a signature of all that we imagine. It guides us. It is the very definition of distance, yet because it is so present, so real, it is “know-able” and therefore achievable.

It is featureless at its farthest, and yet infinitely complex as we approach. It exists for us all, yet we experience it from our individual perspectives.

The horizon forms such an apt metaphor for any kind of dream, aspiration, ambition or hope. Our community houses many worthy aspirations. There are little horizons all over town. The Foothills Performing Arts Center is one of them.

As it is with so many transformative moments and transformative ideas, it is difficult to determine authorship.

The Foothills horizon has been defined and measured and tweaked by so many visionaries: Peter Macris, who galvanized immeasurable effort on behalf of this project; many artists and performing arts groups in the area who, collectively and individually, commit themselves to the importance of the arts in our lives; Doug Reeser and Norm Davies, who coerced the Foothills facility into being; Rick and Michelle Eastman, whose company so lovingly and exactingly wrestled notion into reality; many dedicated employees and generous volunteers, among whom I am one.

We have all been plodding, careening and dancing toward this horizon and, yet, even as it is coming into view, it remains elusive.

We are not deterred. We are moving forward with gusto, as the economy shudders and hiccups and all kinds of enterprise falters.

We’re fixed on that horizon and on our mission of providing experiences that change people, that make us all more human, bring us joy, reassure us, enlighten us, surprise or puzzle us.

Many such experiences are created here in Oneonta and the surrounding area every day, and Foothills may well be a conduit for offering these experiences to larger audiences, or in an improved setting.

Foothills is also determined to be an engaging force, harvesting the cultural diversity from across America and even around the globe and building connections to other locales where art, like the breathtaking beauty of the landscape, or the treasured history of families and villages, is a valued and integral part of each community.

Our emphasis now is on our programming. Since June alone, we have offered more than two dozen unique performances, ranging from award-winning Off-Broadway theatre, to Gilbert & Sullivan, from performance poetry, to movement theatre, from puppetry, to sleight-of-hand, from classical guitar, to heavy metal and so much more.

In one exhausting night we transformed an empty space into a respectably equipped black-box theater that can house our intrepid audiences comfortably.

The progress has been palpable; it nourishes our continued efforts to build toward the thunderous applause that will ring from the 600-seat theater that waits now for us to fill it with light and sound and movement and ideas.

Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, encourages arts organizations to take heart and push forward. “I do believe,” he said, “that sometimes it takes these terrible, difficult environments to allow us to be more creative rather than less creative.”

Art-making may occasionally be a solitary act, but by its very definition, art experiencing, art sharing, is not. We may be answering the phones here at Foothills and occupying the offices, but we know with certainty that this performance space belongs to everyone.

This is an invitation. Be active, engage us, challenge us to offer performing arts that will cultivate our imaginations, our empathy and our understanding.

To reach McDowall, e-mail

To write for “My turn,” contact Daily Star Publisher Tanya Shalor at or 432-1000, ext. 214.