Oak joined the Arts Council in 2001 as board president and was named executive director in 2005. She, board members and volunteers have revived the group over the last decade. Under her leadership, the Arts Council has grown to include a gallery and gift shop in Potsdam and dozens of art education classes on the second floor of downtown Snell Hall.
Hilary Oak says it's time for someone with new energy, skills and creative ideas to lead the organization. She spoke with Todd Moe about the joys and challenges of helping to rebuild and strengthen the arts community in the North Country.
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Oak says that when she started in 2001, the St/ Lawrence County Arts Council inherited from the previous board, $400, a couple boxes of vials, a bulk mailing permit, and an out-dated Macintosh computer.
Now they have a gift shop with gallery space on Market St. in Potsdam, studio and classroom spaces in Clarkson University’s old Snell Hall, and employ 2 full-time and 6 part-time people. Oak believes it is a “pretty significant” increase from what they started with.
“I feel like we’ve got a whole lot of wonderful things that we’ve been able to do with the spaces that we have.” The council has recently been involved with the Remington Arts Festival in Canton, the 25th annual Studio Tour on Veterans Day weekend, and the “Mixed Mediacs” exhibit in their gallery.
Oak is “very proud of the visible presence we’ve given the arts.” The council represents over 300 artists, authors and musicians from all over the North Country. They also have a community arts grant program that has been running for six years, which supports artists in the surrounding schools with small project grants.
“It feels really good to know that not only are we showcasing art here at our location, but were fostering that in small communities all around the North Country.”
The council has helped gain further recognition of arts in the North Country throughout New York state. The council “helps people realized that there’s a lot going on north of Albany, and even here north of the Adirondacks.”
They have also helped other organizations get up and running, such as the North Country Arts Council in Watertown, and Foothill Arts Society in Malone.
Stepping down will give Oak more time to be in her studio to make jewelry and to possibly return to mosaic work. She is also training in Thai yoga massage, and is developing a healing business out of her home called “Cheerful Strength.”