Tuesday, October 26, 2021

LG Arts Project: Could be final Black Velvet

Last licks for Kitsch?

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

Twenty-six years is a lot of black velvet art — but we may be seeing the end of the roll.

The Lake George Arts Project says this may be the final year for the Black Velvet Art Party, which continues to require massive work for a decreasing return, director John Strong tells The Chronicle.

This year’s BVAP, as it’s sometimes called, is Saturday, Nov. 22, from 7 to 11 p.m. — at a new location, The Georgian Resort on Canada Street in Lake George Village.

The party used to run from 8 to midnight, but the core crowd, frankly, has gotten a little older in 22 years, and the earlier hours seem to work better, Mr. Strong said when they made the change a few years back. Not to say that young folks don’t come out too: They do.

What brings them out?

Kooky, kitschy, classy, crazy — the Black Velvet Art Party is an event like no other.

Folks dress up in elegant velvet of all colors, or in costumes and get-ups geared to the theme (or not). This year’s theme is one word: “Gnarly.” Think surfer dudes and the California vibe.

The “fashion parade” each year offers prizes in several categories, from “Velvelicious” to “Most Inappropriate,” the latter named for Joan Reid, who once showed up in a spectacular shimmery seahorse outfit (before the Arts Project even added themes that might have explained her choice).

Trophies were hand-“enhanced” with sequins, pink feathers and other doo-dads during a pre-Black Velvet gathering of committee members last week.

The centerpiece is a silent auction of works by regional artists — many of the best of the region. All offerings must incorporate black velvet.

Energy always ‘through the roof’

In keeping with the “Gnarly” theme, music this year is by Big Fez and the Surfmatics, a surf-party band from the Capital Region. They played last year’s summer concert series presented by the Arts Project, Mr. Strong notes.

John Strong, director of the Lake George Arts Project, with hand-“enhanced” trophies to be awarded at this Saturday’s Black Velvet Art Party. Chronicle photos/Cathy DeDe
John Strong, director of the Lake George Arts Project, with hand-“enhanced” trophies to be awarded at this Saturday’s Black Velvet Art Party. Chronicle photos/Cathy DeDe

“They’re really good, high energy, and they don’t stop, just one song into another.”

Mr. Strong says, “The party itself, the energy is always through the roof. But it seems there’s not as big an audience for it.’ He said some 140 people have attended in recent years, where the party drew “well over 200” in earlier years.

Really, it’s a bit of a surprise the party works at all, Mr. Strong laughs.

“That’s why I put it on the poster, The Improbable 26th annual,” he says.

“The night of the party is still great, great energy,” he repeats. “But, the last couple of years, we brought in maybe $4,500, and the party costs $2,500 to $3,000 to put on. It doesn’t mean it’s not worth the party, but we put in a lot of volunteer hours. We’re rethinking it and hinting at this being the last. We’ll see what happens.”

Ted Zoli’s crazy idea caught on

How did a premiere organization dedicated to fine art exhibits, jazz and excellent live music concerts, poetry readings and literary events ever get wrapped in black velvet in the first place?

“We used to go to Garcia’s restaurant after board meetings,” Mr. Strong recalls. “Being the Mexican restaurant that it is, there was all this black velvet art hanging on the wall. Ted Zoli was the board president at the time, and he said we should do a party with black velvet art, half kiddingly. But deep down, I think he really likes black velvet. He’s still always bringing me articles and books on it.”

In earlier years, he says “We used to do a lot more activities. We had U-Paint black velvet, a paint-on black velvet wall. We had psychics, spin art, one year a shuffleboard game where the weights were in the shape of Van Gogh’s ear. The limbo contest is still popular.”

Black Velvet Art Party — Scene from a previous year, when the theme was “Under the Sea.”
Black Velvet Art Party — Scene from a previous year, when the theme was “Under the Sea.”

They’d often have someone dressed as Elvis, “the patron saint of black velvet art.” One year it was Mr. Strong himself, in a white fringed jumpsuit.

Another year, Elvis arrived in a coffin and was “resurrected,” Mr. Strong laughs.

The art itself? “I had forgotten how good it could be until a couple of years ago. Gary and Joy (Muller-)McCoola put on a show of black velvet art from over the years in their building on Broad Street (now Rad Razors barbershop).

“It showed the art in a different perspective. Wow, that’s really cool. Of course, the other end of it is some not-so-cool stuff coming in, but the good stuff is really good.”

He laughs over the year that Billy Brandt donated a Cadillac whose interior was completely redone in velvet — “someone drove away with it that night, no license or anything on it,” he marvels.

Part of the appeal, Mr. Strong believes, is “the opportunity to just get dressed up. It’s fun for everybody.” Not that costumes, or even fancy attire are required. But, Mr. Strong says, “there aren’t many dress up affairs, elegant or costumes. That adds to the energy I think.”

Money issues, deficits, too

Mr. Strong says his organization, like others in the region, faces as much as a $10,000 deficit this year. “That letter from the Chapman,” he says, referring to a Chronicle article about the Chapman Historical Museum’s plea to donors to help close a gap in this year’s budget: “I could have written that letter too,” Mr. Strong says.

“We have about the same budget, and we’re looking at the same deficit. But we’re not panicking. We’re gonna close that gap. We’re hoping Black Velvet does well, and we’re starting our annual appeal.”

“Last year we had a $10,000 surplus. So, it shifts,” he said. “What’s predictable is expenses. You can control that. What’s not predictable is income.”

The Arts Project’s other signature event is Bands and Beans, a chili and music fest held in March. It takes a lot of effort too, he says, but draws some 1,000 people typically, and raises as much as $20,000 for the organization — their largest fund-raiser.

The annual cruise on Lake George, held in June around the time of the Solstice, draws “a couple hundred” people and grosses $7,000 to $8,000, Mr. Strong says, with far less effort.

LG Art Project Black Velvet art party is Saturday at Georgian

Chronicle Managing Editor Cathy DeDe writes: Always a heck of a party, as lively, unique, interesting and off-the-wall as John Strong says in the article at left, the 26th annual Black Velvet Art Party is Saturday, Nov. 22, from 7 to 11 p.m. — this year at a new location, at the Georgian Resort in Lake George Village. Tix: $25.

Call for info or to RSVP: 668-2616.

The party theme is “Gnarly.”

Music is by Big Fez and The Surfmatics.

Offerings include light refreshments by The Georgian, a cash bar, music and dancing, and a “fashion parade” with wild, hand-made trophies awarded in several categories, from Velevelicious to Most Inappropriate, to King and Queen of Black Velvet.

The centerpiece of the event is a silent auction of art works by many of our most accomplished regional artists, all incorporating black velvet.

Their newest event, the Art at the Lake one-day art show and sale held in August, nets about $12,000 he said. It also taps into the Lake George-Bolton summer crowd — a plus, Mr. Strong says.

Black Velvet, he suggests — while it’s fun for participants — “requires a little more effort or imagination” from those who attend. “You don’t have to, but the people who come seem to like dressing up.”

Maybe a blues fest

New offerings in the works if Black Velvet doesn’t continue? Mr. Strong said the Arts Project is talking with Lake George Mayor Bob Blais about launching a two-day headlining blues festival in the new Charles Wood Festival Space, likely in early August — but he only wants to do it if it’s a money maker. Otherwise, “iI’s just creating more work for us.”

The Arts Project’s annual budget is approximately $200,000, he says.

He says, besides declines in government and foundation funding, another shift over the years is, “We put in as much effort and energy to get a $250 to $400 business sponsorship as to get one membership (for $10-$50). Membership organizations everywhere are finding it hard to get returns and hard to get new members,” he said.

Copyright © 2014 Lone Oak Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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