Local artwork watches over county government

A gallery in the Broome legislative conference room showcases area’s creative talent

(As reported in the Press & Sun-Bulletin, 11/26/14)
John R. Roby, jroby@pressconnects.com | @PSBJRoby

The Broome County Legislature’s committee work — where the nuts and bolts of the legislative process are hammered out before the body’s monthly sessions — takes place in a room that could charitably be described as spare.

Tables, chairs, ceiling and carpet: all are typical government building trappings, neutral and functional.

But for more than a year, rotating exhibits showcasing the work of local artists have graced the walls of the conference room on the sixth floor of the county office building. The exhibits have included photography, drawings and paintings from established artists as well as creative school-children.

The idea came about both as a way to support the arts community and to bring welcome warmth when visitors come before county government, said Aaron Martin, clerk of the legislature.

“A lot of work happens in this room. Sometimes agreeable, sometimes disagreeable, and that’s OK, that’s what our system is all about,” he said. “One thing that always struck me is this room needed something.”

The county partners with the Broome County Arts Council to put on the quarterly shows. Arts Council Executive Director Sharon Ball said she jumped at the opportunity to showcase the area’s visual artists.

“We’re going to be looking into figuring out a way to formalize it,” she said. “It’s worked so well, and it brightens that room and it showcases the real talent that exists in this community.”

Guidance is minimal, Martin and Ball said. For three of the yearly exhibitions, the only criteria is that images of Broome County are preferred.

“I keep it fairly open,” Ball said. “That way we allow the artists their creativity. We’re not decorating the room, we’re exhibiting the art. There’s a difference, and we want the artists to feel that.”

One show a year highlights work of area students on a patriotic theme, as part of the county’s Veterans of Distinction program.

The current exhibition is a one-woman show of 14 paintings by Binghamton artist Joanne Thorne Arnold. An oil painter who is known for her use of color, Arnold has exhibited her work at many area venues as well as galleries in Florida, South Carolina, Texas and elsewhere.

“The pieces up in the Broome County Legislature, those are paintings of rooftops and neighborhoods in the area,” she said. “You don’t see people in these, but to me it still tells the personality of the area and gives the feeling of the neighborhoods.”

She described the paintings as “back by popular demand,” as they are in a style that she painted years back, working from photographs. She has recently been doing more abstract, atmosphere-driven paintings.

The arts council puts on similar “remote exhibitions” in Rep. Richard Hanna’s office, Ball said. Arnold has shown her paintings there as well, and three hang in the Broome County Public Library.

Martin said the art always draws comments, as well as visitors when new exhibits are installed. The room is open to the public during business hours.

In addition to the legislature, other county departments routinely hold meetings there, which means the audience is far larger than the 15 legislators and the office of the clerk’s staff.

“I hope it does a good thing for the spirit of the people in the room,” Ball said. “I have this idea that scenes of where we live help remind us what this work is really about.”

Follow John R. Roby on Twitter @PSBJRoby

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