(as published at http://www.uticamusicfest.net/extensions/featured-news )

Utica Culture:

The social culture of a city in this country depends largely on the daily choices people make about how they focus their attention and money. The things that cause people to draw together are difficult to define, but the hard truth is things which are supported survive and things which are deemed unimportant wither and die. The greater Utica area has proven itself committed to supporting the arts and this relationship has become a unique, beneficial, and inseparable part of the community. The Utica Music and Arts Festival may be a recent apex, but the groundwork reaches much further back.

If it’s true that the smallest daily things combine to become the tapestry of a life, then what simpler joys exist than good food, good friends, and beautiful things to see and hear? Our abundance of local coffee houses and restaurants create warm, cozy nooks for people to gather, talk and bond. The fare, largely, is simple, delicious, and affordable. Attend a place a few times, share your enthusiasm, and you will find it returned by the establishment and fellow patrons. Ours is an easy place to become a ‘regular’. You’ll find it natural to feel invested and involved.

So now a gathering place and the mentality to gather exists. Radio stations and big-box store artwork are the norm in many places around the country. Chains and franchises abound. How does Utica differ? Here’s where things get interesting.

There has always been music in Utica. There have always been artists, certainly since the opening of the Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute. There are musicians and artists in every part of the globe; working and passionately hoping someone will notice. Utica, in particular, seems bursting with them. And, the thing about artists of all sorts is, many of them know how to rally a cause and cooperate because their life’s work depends on it. They actively seek symbiotic interactions with venues and the community at large.

Through luck or the make up of our demographic, the venues in Utica have long wanted to work with the artists. Bars and restaurants of varying ambiance and cuisine willingly employ original musicians and bands playing versions of radio hits. The City has long supported the arts with festivals like Utica Monday Night which open up parks and public spaces and encourage people to gather and value their neighbors’ work. The MWPAI Arts Festival thrives. Area coffee houses provide a venue to local art media of all types and a safe gathering place for young people to network and thrive creatively. Music is made in every available space in the City from record stores to the train station. Our nook of the world is a rich experience.

It’s so simple it’s humbling. A venue for an artists’ work begets a following which creates the ability to exist. All it takes are active choices on the part of business owners and patrons. If it were purely profit driven, you’d see a lot less original music. Unknown material is simply riskier … unless you’re in Utica. A brief look down Varick Street and you can see the mutually beneficial fruits of the labor of cooperating artists and venues. Money is spent and an abundance of original music is heard on that street for such a small city. It’s not just on Varick. What we all have, we are willing to share.

In the background, inspired by support and opportunity, the artists and musicians began talking. Engaging the networks they’d been growing for years, together, they dreamed bigger. Out of that brushfire rose the annual Utica Music and Arts Festival and some of us drew in our breath and poised for an opportunity for the outside world to finally get to see.

The third annual Utica Music and Arts Festival this September was a huge success. Over 200 performers, many not local, converged on our City and played, drank, ate and experienced. They spent their money in our economy and went home as excited about art as they had both years prior. People have taken and shared amazing photographs that they, the performers, and the area benefit from. Local artists and local media companies have designed and created promotional materials. Bands are pre-registering almost a year in advance. Be not mistaken, Utica is rising as a city recognized for what we’ve all always just accepted as part of life here. Maybe that’s the most beautiful thing of all.

Keep up the good work, citizens, artists, outlets of media, musicians, photographers, business owners and venues of all types. It is you who make this possible. Your interest is contributing to the work the organizers of the festival are doing and the overall work each artist themselves is doing…the work that Utica is doing. You are that indefinable something that we are lucky to have. I’d like to say thanks. I’d like to say, onward and upward. I’ll see you for dinner and a show.

Article written by Melissa L. Walker

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