Schenectady festival is well-timed, filled with music, poetry, creations

Section: Capital Region,  Page: D1

Date: Sunday, March 21, 2010

SCHENECTADY -- On the first day of spring, Lori Jancik and Bruce Eelman placed their 11-month-old daughter Elinor in the baby stroller and stepped outside. They drove from their home in Niskayuna to Schenectady for the city's inaugural Art Attack.

With about 500 artists displaying their work all weekend at 24 venues, there is plenty to see. But for Jancik and Eelman, the main attraction Saturday was the weather. Temperatures soared into the 60s.

"This is our first time out like this," Eelman said as Jancik, both jacket-less, let their baby watch a chain-saw artist.

"It's a great idea," Jancik said of the arts festival. "For so long you could walk on the streets of Schenectady, and it was like a ghost town. It's nice to see so many people out."

Basking in the warmth, they moved leisurely from venue to venue. There were bands playing outside on Jay Street, chain-saw artists in the middle of the street at Jay and Liberty, and artists of all sorts at tiny galleries as well as Proctors, SACC TV studios, Hellenic Center and City Hall.

"We kept adding artists right up to the end," said Don Rittner, organizer of Art Attack. "I didn't want to say no to anybody."

Rittner, an arts lover and the city and county historian for Schenectady, conceived of Art Attack after frequenting arts nights in area cities. He decided to bring all the artists together for an "attack" upon a city. He settled on the first weekend of spring.

He reached artists by sending e-mails to arts groups. He solicited help from friendly artists around Schenectady. He had no money for advertising, so he relied on the media and word of mouth.

"I'm just amazed that we were able to pull it off," he said. "We opened the doors at 10 this morning, and people were waiting to come in. It's been a constant flow ever since."

City Hall is the hub. All four floors are filled with art, music and poetry readings. In the conference room, a silent auction features vases painted and signed by local celebrities and one Hollywood actress, Thora Birch, who played the disillusioned daughter in "American Beauty." Proceeds from the auction, which remains open through today, will benefit Schenectady's City Mission.

Peggy Bielecki, a painter originally from Schenectady now living in Charlton, handled logistics for the event -- matching artists with spaces. She is also exhibiting her paintings, including an 8-foot mural of a lake scene.

"Do you have any idea what it's like to hang more than 400 artists in one day?" she said, meaning, of course, hang their work. "The talent in this area just blows my socks off. I think next year it's going to be twice as big."

Danielle Coleman, an art teacher at Central Park Middle School, oversaw about 75 of her students as they created African masks and three oversized papier-mache animals -- a lion, jaguar and crocodile. When she heard about Art Attack, she wanted in. All the pieces are here, including a 13-foot crocodile.

Rittner had no way of counting how many people meandered through the exhibits. But, he said, based on the number of brochures handed out there might be 5,000 by the close of Art Attack today. It runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"It's a beautiful day," Rittner said Saturday. "It's the first day of spring. We've got beautiful art. What more could you ask for?"

Tom Keyser can be reached at 454-5448 or by e-mail at tkeyser@timesunion.com.


Schenectady Art Attack

Where: Downtown Schenectady

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today