Art Utopia off Interstate 81 | Musical Features


Click to enlarge The Homer Arts Center building was built in 1893 and formerly housed the First Baptist Church of Homer until 2001, when the community came together to preserve it and transform its mission. ——Patrick Hawken

  • Patrick Hosken
  • The Homer Arts Center building was built in 1893 and formerly housed the First Baptist Church of Homer until 2001, when the community came together to preserve it and transform its mission.

Twelve miles southeast of Skaneateles Lake, this small town in central New York looks like Brigadoon in the mist. With a population of 6,000 and a National Historic District spanning its main street, Homer has recently become a haven for culture, especially live music.

Its heart is an old brick church, built in 1893, adjacent to the village green. Since 2001, the building has been home to the Homer Arts Centre, which is wider than the Cardiff Stone replica on the lawn.

Ty Marshal, the center’s executive director since 2015, said the center is a destination for patrons of the arts, the artists themselves and the members who power its operations. “As soon as they arrived here, it was like they had discovered a magical place,” he said. “They were in love.”

The center hosts community theatre, book clubs, music and dance classes, an art gallery that displays work year-round and a new initiative that pairs agricultural growers with artists. But the biggest draw remains the live concerts in its 400-seat theater.

In the past few months alone, the scene has been graced with musicians as eclectic as cult songwriter Jonathan Richman, doomed Canadian band Godspeed You! Black Empire, New Orleans institution Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and even actor and folk singer Kiefer Sutherland.

“The concert series was the first introduction,” Marshall said. “You come to a concert, you enjoy it, and then we want you to come back for other events or become a member.”

Click to enlarge Ty Marshal took over as executive director of the Homer Arts Center in 2015.

  • Patrick Hosken
  • Ty Marshal took over as CEO of Homer Arts Center in 2015.

First, how about a gig with upstate New York’s own Brigadoon band, Homer? It all comes down to hospitality, Marshall said. The cozy green room at the center, with its leather sofas and windows overlooking the town, is an antidote to the cinder block basement.

Marshal and his staff are proud of their excellent relationships with bookers like DSP Shows and the amenities they provide.

“We have Band-Aids, toothbrushes and toothpaste,” said event director Sheila Ryan. “They sent us a (touring) rider and we filled every thing.”

Marshal noted that the closest big box stores are in Ithaca and Syracuse, about 30 miles away.

“Think about when you travel and you have a fingernail or a piece of popcorn stuck to your teeth,” he said. “Let’s lighten the load (so they don’t have to run to the store.)”

As the marshal explained, a delivery truck pulled into the parking lot. The driver began unloading the vehicle from the crowd control column.

Click to enlarge The Homer Center for the Arts hosts community theater, book clubs, music and dance classes, an art gallery that displays work year-round, and, of course, live music in the 400-seat theater. ——Patrick Hawken

  • Patrick Hosken
  • The Homer Center for the Arts hosts community theater, book clubs, music and dance classes, an art gallery that displays work year-round, and, of course, live music in the 400-seat theater.

“Are they still sending pillars?” the “Marshal” asked doubtfully on the porch of a neighboring building also owned by the center. “How many struts did we order?”

Ryan laughed and said she didn’t know.

So is the atmosphere at the center: unrelentingly optimistic forward momentum, with a hint of manic energy. This may be the only way to handle everything that goes into maintaining a historic building: restoring stained glass windows, rebuilding crumbling brick walls, installing new HVAC systems, and more.

Ethan Zoeckler, the center’s program director, originally joined “to scrub toilets and carry heavy objects.” He now juggles multiple jobs.

He oversees the theater program, which presents “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” at Homer High School July 18-21, and the Agricultural Arts Initiative, which he launched with local veterinarians to inspire collaboration between artists and growers.

Click to enlarge Ethan Zoeckler first joined the Homer Arts Center for "Scrub toilets and carry heavy objects." He is now its Project Director, overseeing community theater productions such as "Chitty chitty bang bang." ——Patrick Hawken

  • Patrick Hosken
  • Ethan Zoeckler first joined Homer Arts Center to “scrub toilets and carry heavy objects.” He is now the program’s director, overseeing community theater productions such as “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

“That’s really the driving force behind any culinary arts we do,” Zoeckler said, “because ecological sourcing is a big part of it. I didn’t take a cooking (course) and went straight into farming.

This eco-thruline intersects with the center’s goal of having 100 percent of licensed merchandise sourced from the region: hot dogs from Syracuse’s Hoffman Sausage Company, grass-fed bison from Skaneateles Buffalo, ham from local dairy farms Cheese etc.

The center also acquired another historic church nearby, which they will use grant funds to restore and transform into a “creative community hub.” It might host theater rehearsals or science lectures in a 200-seat space. Maybe they’ll open a cafe.

“Right now, we’re in the dream phase,” Marshall said. He felt comfortable in that place, knowing that the end would come naturally. “Again, the community will tell us what they want to see from the space and how they want to use it.”

Patrick Hosken is an arts writer for City magazine. He can be contacted via: [email protected].

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