Counciling St. Albans
State of the Arts
Jay Fleury is a private man with an aversion to cameras. Ask his age and he replies, “Over 35 and under death.” He could be St. Albans’ most eccentric enigma. With gold-topped cane in hand and either a leather baseball cap or brown ushanka covering his clean-shaven head, Fleury takes daily strolls along St. Albans City’s Main Street, visiting downtown merchants and patronizing various restaurants. He calls St. Albans his baby.
“And I should take care of my baby,” he says.
Fleury is reticent about his personal history, but in the St. Albans arts scene he’s like the high-profile businessman who starts a company, grows it, then leaves and starts anew with entrepreneurial zeal. The groups he has founded or cofounded include the St. Albans Artists Guild, the St. Albans Literary Guild and the St. Albans Society for the Performing Arts.
His latest project: the St. Albans Arts Council (SAAC), which received unanimous St. Albans city council backing during the latter’s October meeting.
“I want to plant a seed and see how it grows,” Fleury pitched. “There’s a hell of a lot of talent in this community, and I don’t think it’s been fully explored.”
Fleury envisions SAAC as a grant-generating entity for artists in the greater St. Albans area — pop. 14,000 — as well as the creator and keeper of an all-inclusive arts calendar for the region. That would help artists and organizations schedule performances and events without bumping into each other.
“When you have too many events on one night, nobody wins,” Fleury says. “Once a council is formed, it will be up to them how the programs are structured.”
Fleury’s parents raised him in St. Albans —“I was actually born in Massachusetts by mistake,” he quips. “My parents were on vacation.” As an adult he left for some years, cofounding the St. Albans Historical Society from afar, and returned in the early part of this decade. While he was away, Fleury helped raise funds to establish the Kennedy Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. — where he also worked for the YMCA — and was chairman of the arts council of Falmouth, Mass.
Fleury does not want SAAC to swallow and dissolve the groups he started previously. Rather, he sees members from each compiling a SAAC board over the next few months, then enlisting other artists and businesspeople to join. Seven are already on board.
The city council and Mayor Marty Manahan fully supported SAAC, but quickly noted they couldn’t fund the group, given municipal budget constraints in a struggling economy. Alderman Dave Peirce voiced another concern: Would SAAC step on the toes of the All Arts Council of Franklin County (AAC)?
“I just don’t want to drop any political bombs on anyone else,” Peirce said in October.
“Anyone else” would be Dick Harper, AAC director and a virtual one-man show whose organization relies solely on volunteers. Since 1984, Harper’s AAC — a state-designated regional arts council — has held hundreds of low-cost and free exhibits, screenings and fundraisers, and reached multitudes via advertising and marketing. The AAC’s most popular event is the nearly 20-year-old Summer Sounds Concert Series, which recently moved from St. Albans City to nearby Highgate.
“It’s not a new idea,” Harper said of the SAAC. “I hope this one works. And the All Arts Council has worked very comfortably with all groups in the area for over 20 years, because our role is primarily supportive.”
Fleury knows city officials have fielded and rejected St. Albans arts-council concepts before. But times have changed, and so has the booming, ever-evolving local arts scene.
Fleury and Harper do share a vision: an arts center that would help make Franklin County a cultural destination.
“Some people have expressed interest in certain locations,” Fleury says. “Many of our professional artists work out of their homes.”
Once the performing arts society and SAAC are stable, Fleury says, he will step aside and relax.