The White Plains Examiner

Westchester’s Evolution as a Cultural Arts Mecca

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Janet Langsam CEO ArtsWestchester

In Westchester County these days, the center of the arts scene is located in downtown White Plains at the home of ArtsWestchester, housed in an historic building on the corner of Martine and Mamaroneck Avenues.

At the helm of this prestigious organization for the past 20 years is CEO Janet Langsam, a savvy lady, who along with an active board and creative staff has guided the organization and the local art community to a place of prominence within the county. It is the largest not-for-profit arts council in New York State.

In a recent interview with The White Plains Examiner, Langsam called Westchester County an outstanding cultural Mecca. “People can go out for a few hours to listen to an orchestra, view an art show, go to the theater, all without traveling too far,” she said.

Langsam believes the success of the Westchester council rests on the willingness of people within government as well as big business to support culture across all aspects of the humanities. “It’s all intertwined,” she says.

Much of the development of art and culture in Westchester is the result of people who left their estates to the county for cultural purposes. “The same is true in New York City,” Langsam explained. “This encouraged the development of parks with museums, resulting in a partnership between culture and government.”

In 1975, the Westchester Arts Council became the official art organization for the county and the financial relationship between the corporate sector and government began. At that time, companies such as IBM, PepsiCo, Texaco and General Foods pledged to match government support by funding the various museums.

“Many of those relationships are still in place, 37 years later,” Langsam acknowledged. “The result has been tremendous development in the county resulting in an economic impact of $156 million.”

Over the years, organizations such as the Jacob Burns Film Center, the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, Tarrytown Music Hall, White Plains Performing Arts Center, and Downtown Music at Grace have been affiliated with ArtsWestchester.

The growth of such a varied cultural climate has encouraged Robert Redford to identify Westchester as a place where he soon will locate a new Sundance theater, Langsam claimed.

Having worked through many different economic climates, Langsam says there is plenty of pain to go around today. “I am very grateful for the support of both the County Executive and the Board of Legislators,” she said, referring to recent budget constraints. “This is a very difficult time in the county and all arts organizations are called upon to work together,” she continued.

The synergy built over the years with various arts organizations has encouraged collaboration such as the development of the website at to create an arts portal for people to find events of all kinds. Working together allows all parties involved to benefit.

Viewing location as an important part of community building, Langsam has her eye on developing downtown White Plains as a cultural district that will further bring organizations like Play Group Theater, the music programs at Grace Church and the White Plains Performing Arts Center together. She calls the program “Art in Public Places” and is encouraging people and organizations to think about the types of art that might be placed on display at the fountain plaza or along the sidewalk on Main Street to and from the Metro North Train Station.

“This can be any type of art,” Langsam explained, “including sculpture, video, murals, kiosks, signage, anything.”

Langsam is also excited about the new jazz programs developing in White Plains. Last fall the first Jazz Festival was held on Mamaroneck Avenue and was developed in cooperation with the White Plains Recreation and Parks Department. Langsam would like to see that expand to an event spanning several days and locations in the downtown area.

Earlier this month ArtsWestchester, along with lead sponsor First Niagara Bank Foundation, announced a call for entries for its 2013 Arts Award. Nominations are accepted in the following categories: Arts Patron, Artist, Arts Organization, Community, and Education. Nominees must live, work, or have some connection with Westchester County.

Past recipients of the award have included former New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, the Westchester Philharmonic, the Katonah Museum of Art and many others.

As the deadline for nominations draws near, Langsam asks people to “think outside the box” about how people use art in everyday life. “People should think about the impact of creativity,” she says. For example former winners have included the Harrison High School Band and the Hudson Valley Hospital for its healing arts program.

A panel consisting of Westchester artists and community leaders, as well as the Arts Award Committee of ArtsWestchester’s Board of Trustees will review all nominations. ArtsWestchester will present the awards at the Annual Arts Award luncheon on March 20.

Nomination applications and guidelines can be downloaded at:  Applications are also available by contacting Eric Siegel at 914-428-4220 x272 or All applications must be received (not postmarked) by Friday, December 21, 2012 at 5 p.m.



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