Volunteers bring rebirth to Cherry Valley

Sarah Eames | The Daily Star Cherry Valley artist Wendy Reich hangs handmade glass birds in the window of her Alden Street studio in the village Friday, Feb. 12.

CHERRY VALLEY — Just in time for spring, a coalition of community residents are hoping to continue the enthusiasm for the village brought by a Jan. 29 article in the New York Times, which described the efforts of a cadre of artists to brighten up the storefront windows of the “depressed town” during the holiday season.

“I love the whole movement and energy it brought for Cherry Valley,” said Wendy Reich, a resident artist who was not involved in the holiday display.

The day after the article was published, Bill Compton, owner of the recently revived Cherry Valley Bookstore, reported visits from both a Pulitzer Prize winner and a Booker Prize winner and “numerous mentions” of the feature from patrons throughout the day.

“I appreciate the windows project, but I felt it was very selective,” Reich said. “It was designated artists. The community benefited from the whole display, but I’m looking for something much more uniting and give everyone a chance to participate, rather than just be a viewer.”

Reich said she found inspiration while hanging her fused-glass birds in the window of her newly renovated studio on the second floor of the village’s former Masonic Hall. 

“I was admiring the light coming through when I thought, ‘Everyone can relate to birds, wouldn’t it be a fun community project?’” she said. “From there, I reached out to Rebirth Cherry Valley. We wanted to expand on the energy that the windows project created and invite the community to participate.”

Rebirth Cherry Valley describes itself as “a group dedicated to revitalizing the town to improve the quality of life for all residents and create an intentional destination by emphasizing our natural beauty, historic heritage, and vibrant art community.”

“Rebirth was formed as a means of revitalizing the village,” said founding member Angelica Palmer, a Cherry Valley native. “There are a lot of empty storefronts and a general lack of energy in the village, and a shrinking population.

“The goal is to be a home for people who have projects that they’re excited about that needed either a little bit of support through volunteers or additional funding — generally, to be a hub for people who wanted to revitalize the village.”

“I’ve seen it through a lot of different stages,” said Palmer, a lifelong resident of Cherry Valley with the exception of a few years’ sojourn out west. “It was way more vibrant when I was little. There were restaurants, a bakery — it’s gone through a number of waves of activity and downturn, and this last downturn was especially quiet. It’s extra empty.”

Expanding upon the artistic vision of the headline-making holiday window display, Reich and Palmer said they aim to foster a sense of community collaboration and creativity by encouraging everyone to join, regardless of their artistic ability.

Through an artistic community collaboration called “It’s for the Birds,” Rebirth members are seeking artists and ordinary citizens to create birds “from papier-mache, metal, upcycled materials, fabric — anything goes, really,” Reich said.

“The fact that this project is very community-engaged — bringing beauty as well as getting people active and participating — I thought it was fabulous and definitely fit the Rebirth vision,” Palmer said.

“Anybody can be an artist,” said Reich, who regularly taught art classes prior to the pandemic. “I think sometimes that can be intimidating to people.”

“We’re making revitalization possible by ensuring everyone in the community feels included and like they have an important role to play,” Palmer explained. “We have a rich history with a lot of artists in the community. It’s about increasing that vibrancy, bringing people in, making it more visible and making it more accessible.”

Noting the cancellation of Cherry Valley’s annual Outdoor Games and the limited abilities of the Glimmerglass Opera, Reich said, “I feel more than ever that we need to create things to fill voids. Those activities will come back, but let’s do something fun this summer that will get people involved.”

Dozens of bird-makers have already signed up, including art classes at Cherry Valley-Springfield Central School, and organizers said they are expecting hundreds of hand-crafted birds to soon flock to the village streets.

The indoor and outdoor installation opening is planned for April 4.*

“We’re also welcoming spring, because it’s been a long, cold winter,” Reich added.

For Cherry Valley, a long COVID winter meant the shuttering of many local businesses and a growing number of empty storefronts.

Through her other work, both independently and with Rebirth, Palmer said she discovered that many prospective business and property owners were reluctant to come to the village because of its lack of a public sewer system. Inspired by these conversations and her investigations into past efforts toward a sewer system, Palmer said she decided to run for the village board.

“For me, that’s what this project has evolved to: getting more engaged,” Palmer said. “There’s a bunch of things the village could be doing more actively that have come out of these projects. It’s not just art, it’s infrastructure, too.”

A prospective business owner herself, Palmer said she is working to bring a healing and performance arts center to the village.

“It’s something I feel is a great fit for Cherry Valley because of its healing and its warmth,” she said. “I feel like there’s something that’s more openness to creativity and unusual, strange interesting ideas, which is wonderful.”

“Cherry Valley is where people from Cooperstown go when they want to get hip and cool,” Reich joked. “We’re kind of like that cool older hippie sister that some get more than others. It’s definitely got a vibe and an energy that is different from a lot of other communities.”

“Especially in a time when there’s so much divisiveness, politically, Cherry Valley is kind of like a little getaway from that,” she continued. “You have your little factions here and there, but collectively, it’s pretty cohesive. It’s warm and accepting. I have high hopes for Cherry Valley. I feel inspired and excited. There’s new energy. We just need to make things happen.”

“From here, I think we can see what we learn and how it goes,” Palmer said. “We can start thinking about the next project that will accomplish the same tasks: bringing exposure, involving people, creating a spark of creativity, making people feel a part of something”

“Who knows what will happen next?” Reich said. “I hope this will be the basis for continuing artistic, fun community projects in the village, so that people will look to Cherry Valley and say, ‘Look what they’re doing. This is good energy and something different, instead of just existing.’”

For more information, follow “Rebirth Cherry Valley” on Facebook.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

*Changed at 7:05 pm. Feb. 27 to reflect a change in date.

Trending Video

Recommended for you