Thirty years enriching the arts in the river valley

DVAA celebrates its anniversary on March 31 at Villa Roma

By TOM KANE

NARROWSBURG, NY — You’d think that after 30 years, she’d finally learn to coast a little. Not Elaine Giguere.

The executive director of the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance (DVAA) won’t be standing still any time soon. Now, she has plans, in addition to the DVAA’s ongoing activities, to start a media center with broadcast ability over public access television.

That is, after the anniversary celebration on Saturday, March 31 at the Club at Villa Roma. Cocktails at 7:00 p.m. Dinner at 8:00 p.m. Dancing to the Rocketmen at 9:00 p.m.

“We could broadcast the projects we are currently doing,” she said. “We could broadcast things like school board meetings. We need to see where we fit into the new media technology. Do we want to put the things we’re doing on the Internet?”

Giguere has established a technology and media committee at the DVAA.

She wants to investigate live feeds or audio feeds like what was done at the Roebling Bridge during the DiGit Festival.

“We have movies that we have garnered from DiGit,” she said.

The committee is working on the preparations for the center, on things like securing the equipment and searching for grants, she said.

DVAA’s small beginnings

Back in 1977, when Giguere arrived in Narrowsburg with her husband, Tom DeGaetani, who was the first managing director of Lincoln Center, she didn’t have visions of starting an arts alliance or any kind of alliance.

“We came here because my husband was a fishing nut,” Giguere said.

For health reasons, DeGaetani had resigned his position at Lincoln Center and turned to the quiet life in sleepy Narrowsburg.

“We were talked into getting involved with celebrations around the Bicentennial,” she said. “Tom became the chairman of the Bicentennial committee in Tusten. People liked what we had done and a public hearing was held to talk about continuing it.”

One hundred people showed up for the hearing.

Shortly after their arts-related efforts got started, DeGaetani died in 1978 of a heart attack.

Giguere allowed herself to be talked into continuing working in the arts, finding artists in the community, getting art to happen.

“I agreed that I would stay for a year to get things started if they agreed to start a dance company,” Giguere said. “I stayed but the dance thing never happened.”

Giguere had been a dancer and dance choreographer at the Staten Island Dance Theater when she met and married DeGaetani.

“Funding was non-existent when we started,” she said. “We relied heavily on volunteers. We got a lot of free service.”

Later, she wrote and succeeded in getting a small grant of $3,000 from the New York State Council on the Arts.

“Upstate senators supported the New York council if there were a decentralization aspect of funding of the arts in all areas of the state, not just the city,” she said. “There was nobody here, so that’s why we started to get funding.”

DeGaetani was also the first editor of The River Reporter. Then, “We separated ourselves from the paper and let it go its own way,” said Giguere.

One of the first projects was the production of “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” the popular Christmas television production that was turned into a stage production. “We did ‘Our Town’ in the Tusten Theatre when it was still a movie house, and did other productions in Harmonie Hall in Callicoon and plays produced in Monticello,” she said.

The DVAA’s first staff came from the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act Program that trained people to develop work skills. “The workers were free and they and we loved it,” she said.

In 1984, the DVAA began to funnel funds from the New York Council on the Arts to other art groups in the county, as it continues to do.

The Alliance took a major step when it purchased the former Arlington Hotel, where its offices are now located on Main Street in Narrowsburg. And in 1990, Giguere wrote a grant to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Agency for funds to refurbish the town-owned Tusten Theatre on Bridge Street in Narrowsburg, which is now home of the Delaware Valley Opera, the Tusten Jazzfest and the DiGit Media Festival.

“I feel that I have a role on a larger level in the state and the nation to see that the arts are promoted all over the state and the country,” she said. “While we can’t do what is strictly called lobbying, we can have a strong advocacy voice for the arts.”

Giguere is frequently in Albany and in the District of Columbia expressing that voice when it is needed.

“I feel good about what has been accomplished here since without these efforts, the arts would not have as important a place in the Delaware River Valley that they have,” she said.

If somehow she were to disappear from the scene, would the DVAA go on? “Yes, it would,” she said. “The talent is here to run this organization and run it successfully.”

If that is true, it is because of the stellar efforts of this diminutive dancer from Staten Island.

Contributed photo
The current exhibit at the Alliance Gallery is “A Delicate Nature,” photographs by Greg Miller. (Click for larger version)
Contributed photo
The Delaware Arts Center Gallery was renamed the Alliance Gallery in honor of the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance founders Elaine Giguere and Tom DeGaetani at a reception held in October. (Click for larger version)