Folks, I am devoting this week’s Tuesday Post to letting everyone know about a very special event that’s happening in my neck of the woods this coming weekend. It is part of a grassroots movement amongst neighbors to let the world know what our hamlet is all about. The West Fulton Puppet Festival is free and open to the public this Friday and Saturday, July 10 and 11th.
Upstate New York has been losing her population in recent years, but the hardest hit has been Schoharie County, which has suffered a 3.5% drop in the last four years. In addition to being hard hit by tropical storms Irene and Lee a few years back, the agricultural county has suffered from a lack of jobs, an aging population and a sluggish economy.
That’s the story about the folks who leave. But there’s another story unfolding, about the people who are choosing to stay. West Fulton, a tiny hamlet in the heart of the county, is reclaiming her role as the heartbeat, drawing on her historical roots as both a farming and arts community, and reminding local families that there are plenty of reasons to stick around this summer. Local citizens have been working at the grassroots level to restore their hamlet. They have refurbished barns into art and performance studios, bought the church hall and reclaimed the upstairs stage, and opened their homes to host performers, artists and audiences alike from all over the world.
In addition to confronting dwindling population, the town has faced down other threats that endanger rural communities, from industrial wind turbines to hydro-fracking and the Constitution Pipeline. “These days, it feels like we are always being called to defend our way of life and fight back against outside interests,” says Rebecca Brown, who lives with her family in what used to be the Baptist church. “We are tired of telling people what we are against. We want people to know what we are for. Our community has been about local food (the town of Fulton is home to some of the most productive farmland in Schoharie County) and, historically, family-centered arts…The type that draws neighbors closer together. We want to welcome people from all walks of life, regardless of income, to our beautiful town and make them part of that tradition.” This was the genesis of The West Fulton Puppet Festival, which will take place this July 10 and 11th, a free event open to the public.
The Puppet Festival will be a collaboration between local youth and professional artists. It begins with a community pot-luck (open to all, with free hot dogs and hamburgers while supplies last) at 5pm in the center park (858 West Fulton Road) on Friday evening, followed by a 7pm production of La Mouche by Andy Gaukel . It will be performed in a beautifully restored neighboring barn. On Saturday, performances and workshops with renowned puppeteers, including members from the Sandglass Theater, The Puppet People, and The Story Pirates will entertain audiences in local barns peppered throughout the hamlet. Puppetry workshops for kids will run periodically throughout the day. Food will be provided all day on Saturday by Catskill Mountain BBQ in the center park. While the puppet events are free, attendees are asked to stop at the main tent in the center park to pick up their complimentary tickets. A master schedule will also be available there. All events will be within easy walking distance. The park is located at 858 West Fulton Road. Parking will be available in a neighboring farmer’s field.
“West Fulton has a long history of blending arts and farming,” says Cornelia McGiver, co-founder of Panther Creek Arts, a building that stands on the crossroads of the hamlet at the junction of Sawyer Hollow and West Fulton Roads. “The locals valued community theater and music so much, they installed a stage on the top floor of their feed store to host performances. In the past 100 years, farmers, merchants, parents, grandparents and kids all took to the stage together here.”
“West Fulton is a tiny place, and we want folks to relish that experience,” adds Brown. “At the Puppet Festival, you’ll have to cross a few backyards to get to some of the performances. It’ll be almost like trick-or-treating without the costumes. You’ll get to know us. And that’s all part of the experience. We want to welcome you to our town, because we’re here to stay.”
This event is made possible (in part) with public funds from the Decentralization Program of the New York State Council on the Arts, administered through the Community Arts Grants Program by the Greene County Council on the Arts. The rest of the funds were made possible through community donations, and directly from readers like you, who believe events like these make a difference. Thank you!