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this is what Watertown should be, this is what Watertown is – this is the new Watertown.

Watertown arts group seeks to revitalize arts scene, downtown

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An arts organization is trying to bring more opportunities to artists in Watertown and surrounding areas, and more cultural events to residents. The North Country Arts Council was born out of a declining artists' guild a few years ago. Now with a space in downtown Watertown and some successful fundraising behind it, the group is becoming an active force in the community. Joanna Richards reports.

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Joanna Richards
Watertown Correspondent

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On a Saturday morning in downtown Watertown, a storefront on Public Square is filled with paintings and ceramics. This is Arts on the Square, the official home of the North Country Arts Council.

The group's president, Laura Oakes, says the attendance at the grand opening in March showed the hunger for more cultural activity in the area.

We were packed to the rafters. Um, one of the comments that I really, really enjoyed, a friend of mine walked up to me and said, 'I can't believe I'm in Watertown.' And I said, well, you know, this is what Watertown should be, this is what Watertown is – this is the new Watertown.

Oakes says every event the group puts on seems to pack the house.

The arts organization sees itself as tied into the future and health of the city. Oakes says employers have highlighted the Arts Council to potential hires, to try to attract more talented workers to relocate here. And the space on Public Square connects the group with the effort to revitalize downtown Watertown.

Oakes says the Arts Council was born when she and others interested in expanding the arts in the north country approached the aging and declining North Country Artists' Guild in 2009. Oakes helped to publicize a meeting where new officers would be elected.

And we increased the membership from 15 that evening to 35. So, um, once the new board members were voted in, they started going forward in expanding the mission to include not only the visual arts, but also including performance arts, literary arts, and music, dance, things like that.

The revitalized organization called itself the North Country Arts Council. They raised funds and soon were able to rent a visible and welcoming gallery space downtown.

The group expanded its mission, too.

So not only are we trying to find ways for local performers and visual artists and writers, a forum for them to present their work, but we're also trying to encourage activities where local citizens can enjoy more cultural opportunities, and also introduce those opportunities to the youth in the north country.

The Arts Council just finished a major fundraiser, a two-day event in Thompson Park called Enchanted Gardens. Funds raised will go to hire artists-in-residence at high schools in Jefferson County. They will also provide seed money for an independent art theater the group is developing in the same building that houses Arts on the Square. 

Some upcoming events include a summer arts fair in Public Square on August 13, and an exhibit featuring artwork created at the Jefferson County Historical Society beginning August 10. That show will run for two weeks at Arts on the Square.

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