New York State has expanded low-cost rapid testing while continuing to ramp up vaccinations, and has launched the Excelsior pass, a secure application for storing test results and vaccination status that will enable New Yorkers to attend events such as wedding receptions, arts and entertainment venues as well as sports stadiums and arenas. Notably however, the Excelsior pass is not mandatory: New Yorkers may opt to either use the Excelsior pass or alternatively show original records of a negative Covid test (taken within 72 hours of the day of the event) or a CDC vaccination card. Read full guidelines here.
NY Forward Rapid Test Program lists all the vaccination sites where New Yorkers can get a rapid test for $30 with the results delivered within 30 minutes. Note that even individuals who do not experience symptoms or have not had a recent exposure to Covid-19 can use these sites to get a rapid test. Most of these facilities are however located downstate.
The Excelsior Pass enables New Yorkers to have their test and immunization records digitized and stored in one place for convenience of use when gaining access to venues. To get the pass, New Yorkers must register at https://epass.ny.gov, and once their identity is verified, they can either download the Excelsior Pass Wallet or print the Excelsior Pass – its QR code will be scanned by venues to allow entry at events. Participating businesses may download the Excelsior Pass Scanner at https://forward.ny.gov/excelsior-pass-business. Its use is free and will facilitate the reopening of venues and businesses in New York.
Listen to this week’s Kaatscast podcast to learn about arts and culture in the Catskills, creative writing and publishing with Simona David, Sharon Israel, Anique Sara Taylor, and Leslie T. Sharpe, authors affiliated with Writers In The Mountains (WIM). Kaatscast is a biweekly podcast produced by Silver Hollow Audio delivering history, travel guides, arts and culture, outdoor adventures, sustainability news and local interviews from New York’s Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley. Celebrate the Catskills with Kaatscast!
Simona David is a media consultant, author of How Art Is Made: In the Catskills (2017), and former president of Writers In The Mountains (2012 – 2019), currently working as an advisor to the Board. Her website is simonadavid.com.
Sharon Israel hosts the radio show Planet Poet-Words in Space on WIOX 91.3 FM (WIOXradio.org) in the Catskills, and hosts a podcast by the same name (available on Spotify, Apple iTunes and Google Play, and on her website at sharonisraelpoet.com). Sharon’s debut chapbook Voice Lesson was published in 2017 by Post Traumatic Press. She was a 2020 “quarterly challenge” winner in four lines Poetry and Art Magazine online at https://www.4lines.art/challenge/winners . Sharon has served on the Writers In The Mountains’Board of Directors for over a decade.
Anique Sara Taylor is the author of Where Space Bends published in May 2020 by Finishing Lines Press. Her works have appeared in Rattle, Common Ground Review, Adanna, Earth’s Daughters, St. Marks Poetry Project’s The World, and many anthologies. She has co-authored works for HBO, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, and others. Anique holds an MFA in Poetry from Drew University, an MFA in Drawing from Pratt Institute, and a Diplôme from the Sorbonne University in Paris. An award-winning artist, Anique’s paintings have been featured in numerous museums and galleries throughout the tri-state area. She teaches creative writing for Writers In The Mountains and Bard LLI.
Leslie T. Sharpe is an author, editor, and educator. She began her editing career at Farrar, Straus & Giroux and is currently an editorial consultant specializing in literary nonfiction, literary fiction, and poetry. A member of PEN American Center, she is the author of Editing Fact and Fiction: A Concise Guide to Book Editing (Cambridge University Press, 1994), which is regarded as a “modern editing classic” and “On Writing Smart: Tips and Tidbits,” featured in The Business of Writing (Allworth, 2012). Leslie has been a regular contributor to Newsday’s “Urban ‘I’” column, and her essays and articles have appeared in a variety of publications including the Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, Global City Review, International Herald Tribune, The New York Times, New York Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, and Village Voice; The Villager; The Writer; and Psychology Today. Her latest book The Quarry Fox and Other Critters of the Wild Catskills, a lyric narrative look at the wild animals of the Catskill Mountains, was published by The Overlook Press in the spring of 2017. The Quarry Fox audiobook was published by Silver Hollow Audio in June 2020. Leslie has taught writing and editing at Columbia University, New York University and the City College of New York as well as Writers In The Mountains.
Writers In The Mountains (WIM) was founded almost three decades ago in Roxbury to promote literary arts in the Catskills and beyond. Over the years the organization has grown into a major cultural force in the region by significantly expanding its programs and outreach. In addition to its core mission, to offer creative writing workshops year-round, WIM has ventured into other arenas as well, by hosting a popular annual Literary Festival and a quarterly Literary Salon that bring together a variety of publishing professionals: whether be writers, illustrators, editors, literary agents, educators, consultants, and publishers.
Writers In The Mountains promotes literary arts while at the same time builds community.
The pandemic however has forced the organization to re-invent itself. After New York went into lockdown in the spring of 2020, WIM took a pause, then re-emerged with a series of online programs that catapulted the organization into the national limelight virtually overnight. Once the programs were moved online, nationally recognized professionals from all over were able to participate, in addition to local communities in the Catskills, Hudson Valley, and New York City metropolitan area. Consequently, our literary community has grown bigger and moreover happier, because we get to learn from one another, and grow professionally at a different pace, which makes the experience ever more fulfilling.
CREATIVE WRITING WORKSHOPS
WIM offers creative writing workshops year-round with established professionals and covers anything from creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and publishing advice. For instance, this year WIM has offered for the first time a Micro-Memoir workshop taught by Linda Lowen, a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly – participants learn how to submit stories to The New York Times’ Tiny Love column. Several have already been published.
WRITERS UNBOUND ANNUAL CATSKILLS LITERARY FESTIVAL
Launched in 2014, the festival had been taking place every year in the spring at Union Grove Distillery in Arkville. In 2020 the festival was canceled due to the pandemic. Beth Lisick, a New York Times bestselling author, was scheduled to be the keynote speaker; Beth is also an actress – she has appeared at the Cannes Film Festival and other events. Silver Hollow Audio was scheduled to be on the Publishing Panel to address the rise of audiobooks. The festival has been a great opportunity for authors to network and have a platform.
RANDOM CONTEXT LITERARY SALON
A few years ago, WIM launched a literary salon to give writers taking its workshops the opportunity to share their work with the public, and also give the community a chance to get to know the writers. In between readings, there were opportunities to mingle, exchange ideas, and make connections. The pandemic has put this successful program on pause as well. It will be revived with a series of online readings.
PARTNERSHIPS WITH OTHER ORGANIZATIONS
Over the years WIM has partnered with other organizations in the region to enrich the Catskills cultural life. In 2017, for instance, WIM hosted a series of Artist – Writer Talks called “The Arts Converge – Mutual Muses in the Catskills” in partnership with the Catskill Center. There were writers in conversation with visual artists or music composers to a great effect. In 2018 WIM hosted a series of workshops and readings at the Zadock Pratt Museum in Prattsville, partly funded by Poets and Writers, and New York State Council on the Arts. Leslie taught a nature writing workshop, Simona taught an art writing workshop, and Sharon performed music and poetry with composer Robert Cucinotta. That was a perfect example of synergetic artistic endeavors.
UPCOMING LITERARY JOURNAL
WIM is currently working on launching a literary journal dedicated to authors who have an affiliation with the organization. More details will be revealed soon. Read about Writers In The Mountains at writersinthemountains.org.
March 7th marks the one-year anniversary since New York State declared the state of emergency as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 20th, 2020 statewide stay-at-home order was declared, all non-essential businesses were ordered to close, and all non-essential gatherings and events were canceled or postponed. A year later, vaccinations are well under way, and the economy is re-opening step-by-step. New York Forward website provides current information by industry and re-opening phase, travel advisory guidelines, hot spots, as well as testing and vaccination sites. The grim reality is that the U.S. surpassed 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 on February 22nd, which makes the virus the leading cause of death in the country, along with heart disease and cancer. John Hopkins University has a Coronavirus Resource Center where you can track more data.
Consumer spending habits have changed. The lockdown has forced everyone to rethink their priorities and make adjustments. After the initial panic buying in March, April and May last year, when staple products were flying off the shelves, consumers have shifted their attention to remodeling their homes for the era of the indefinite home office, and replaced restaurant and entertainment expenses with home cooking and streaming services. Casual fashion has replaced business suits, and masks have made lipstick irrelevant. These are some of the few pandemic induced lifestyle changes. Read more about consumer spending in the U.S. in this Brookings Institution study.
The most dramatic change in our lives over the past year has been not being able to travel and spend time with family. Another significant change has been remote work and remote learning as the new norm, with some companies announcing indefinite work from home policies. The essential workers of course cannot work remotely, and hence they have been deemed indispensable to keeping our economy and daily lives running.
A year later, we have adapted to wearing masks, using hand sanitizers, and staying six feet apart, while at the same time contemplating how the new normal would look like once the pandemic is over. Socializing in restaurants, cafes, theaters, museums, and art galleries is sorely missed, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Rapid testing and vaccinations are key to re-opening the economy. Google, for instance, is now offering its employees free weekly at home COVID-19 tests. Also, the company announced that its employees won’t return to office until September, and when they do, flexible work weeks will be assessed. Other companies have announced that a significant number of their employees could be working remotely over the next ten years, and some may work from home permanently.
The debate over work-life balance is taking on a new meaning as working from home has eliminated some of the boundaries, and over-work is common. According to an article published in Bloomberg last April, “America’s always-on work culture has reached new heights.” One cannot escape work.
As for team building, people are getting creative. Peek is launching a platform that will offer teams and clients the opportunity to share experiences other than business meetings, and connect in a cooking or mixology class, wine tasting, chess competitions, and other fun activities.
Almost a year since the lockdown, The New York Times reports that “There are hints that the economy has turned a corner: Retail sales jumped last month as the latest round of government aid began showing up in consumers’ bank accounts. New unemployment claims have declined from early January, though they remain high. Measures of business investment have picked up, a sign of confidence from corporate leaders.”
As reported by The New York Times, movie theaters in New York City will be permitted to open for the first time in nearly a year on March 5 at 25 percent of their maximum capacity, with no more than 50 people per screening – movie theaters in the rest of the State were permitted to open last October. Also, as reported in The New York Times, a public-private partnership, New York Arts Revival, was formed to bring back arts to life, offering pop-up performances spearheaded by the producers Scott Rudin and Jane Rosenthal, along with the New York State Council on the Arts. Since the pandemic started, employment in New York City’s arts sector has decreased by 66 percent.
As countries prepare to reopen their economies, the idea of introducing vaccine passports is seen by some as a way to facilitating traveling abroad and even gaining access to venues like restaurants and bars. Vaccination for vacation is an Internet meme that is catching on. There are however ethical concerns surrounding this issue, and it remains to be seen how it can be implemented.
Lifestyle changes that are here to stay: remote work, online shopping, cashless payments, telehealth, digitized operations, and reduced contact. This article in The Harvard Gazette tackles the question on everybody’s mind: What will the new post-pandemic normal look like? Some experts think that we may have a clear idea by the end of the summer if we don’t experience another outbreak in September.
The Zadock Pratt Museum has just released a coloring book for adults, essentially a collection of historical quilts accompanied by text and drawings that provide a unique perspective of the region’s settlement history. Inspired by the 2018 exhibition titled “Undercover Stories,” the book was partly funded by The A. Lindsay and Olive B. O’Connor Foundation and The Nicholas J. Juried Family Foundation. All text and drawings are by Suzanne M. Walsh, who curated the exhibition.
Coloring books for adults have been around for decades but have become quite popular in recent years, as a stress relief activity. In 2015 Crayola launched its own line of adult coloring books, for the first time in its more than a century history. The company also expanded its variety of colored pencils and markers, including the ones with extra fine tip, to fit a wider range of projects. Coloring a book is not only a relaxing activity but it’s also a means of self-expression and a creativity jump-starter. Some users frame their artworks to display and share with family and friends. The richness of possibilities is motivating.
The Zadock Pratt Museum’s Collection of Twenty-Six Catskill Historical Quilting Designs is more than a coloring book. It’s also a reflection of Early America coded in the quilting designs of the women who moved to the region which eventually became the Schoharie and Greene Counties of New York State. In a note prefacing the book, Ms. Walsh explains: “the women of mixed Palatine and Dutch heritage arriving in Schoharie Kill in the 1700s found themselves living during the time when the screams of the mountain lion were a chilling reminder of just how wild this frontier outpost really was; nonetheless, with brave hearts and steady hands they cut and stitched their quilts with the astonishing skill and imagination they passed to their descendants. Some of their legacies are found in this book today.”
Quilting has been described by scholars as “the art of necessity.” When textiles were scarce, women patched old blankets, coverlets, and table runners with cloth they had available and ready to use. European settlers brought this practice to the New World, and it flourished here and took on a new life. A utilitarian activity at first, quilting did eventually become an American folk art.
According to Lisa J. Allen who writes about the history of quilting in America, “In the 100 years between 1750 and 1850 thousands of quilts were pieced and patched, and many of them are preserved. Many of these quilts were so elaborate that years were spent making and quilting them. It is no wonder they are cherished as precious heirlooms and occupy honored places in homes and museums. Those early quilts provide a glimpse into the history of quilting as well as the history of the United States.”
American Folk Art Museum in New York City has an impressive textile collection, and has begun the New York Quilt Project to locate, document, preserve, and create an archive for New York State quilts. Dr. Jacqueline M. Atkins, a curator who worked at the Folk Art Museum, wrote the introduction for the The Zadock Pratt Museum Coloring Book, and shared “the thrill of the hunt, as one is never sure just what new and exciting quilts, patterns, and designs will turn up in addition to renewing acquaintances with many old favorites.”
Among the 26 quilts included in the book, our favorites are the Japanese Fan (a 19th century feed sack quilt), Honeycomb (a coverlet dated 1929), and the Friendship Quilt (dated around 1850s). The Japanese fan motif became popular in the U.S. after the Centennial International Exhibition that took place in Philadelphia in 1876, as related by Atkins; Catskill artisans quickly incorporated the motif in their work. The Honeycomb quilt block known by other names as well, most notably Hexagon, but also Mosaic or French Rose, may be in fact one of the oldest known quilt blocks in America. The Friendship Quilt was created by several women as a solace for a loved one who would move West. Each block was sewn in secret by a friend or a relative who signed their name in ink or embroidered it on their finished block. During the 1850s it became popular to embroider the name rather than sign it in ink, a practice that would help historians date the quilts.
The Zadock Pratt Museum’s Collection of Twenty-Six Catskill Historical Quilting Designs can be ordered by phone at (518) 299-3395, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail at Pratt Museum, PO Box 333, Prattsville, NY 12468. For questions about this project, you may contact Suzanne Walsh at (518) 937-6120 or email@example.com. All funds go to support the Museum’s mission. To learn more, visit zadockprattmuseum.org.
Writers in the Mountains (WIM) presents Micro-Memoir, a six-week long workshop with Linda Lowen, January 8 – February 12, 2021. The class will be held online Fridays, from 10 am to 12 noon. Once they register and pay, participants will be given instructions on how to join the class.
Memoir doesn’t have to cover decades to tell a story. Sometimes a single moment, vividly depicted, illuminates a life. If you’ve wanted to write memoir but are overwhelmed at the immensity of the task—or you’re already writing but need a fresh approach—consider micro memoir. The smaller format can be freeing, allowing you to focus on an event that serves as a microcosm of the larger experience. In this workshop you’ll write short 200-word pieces and discover less is more. Weeks 5 and 6 we’ll focus on Tiny Love Stories, relationship tales of 100 words or less, and you’ll come away with one piece suitable to submit to the New York Times column of the same name.
A book reviewer for Publishers Weekly, Linda’s nonfiction has been published in the New York Times and is forthcoming in “Tiny Love Stories: True Tales of Love in 100 Words or Less” from Artisan Books in December. Her writing advice has appeared in The Writer and Writer’s Digest magazines. She teaches creative nonfiction at the Downtown Writer’s Center in Syracuse, NY, and has led workshops at the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival and HippoCamp, the annual CNF conference sponsored by Hippocampus magazine. Her website is lindalowen.com
To register, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To register online, visit writersinthemountains.org. Class fee is $100, if you register and pay by December 18, and $125 after that.
Writers in the Mountains is a 501 ( c ) (3) not-for-profit organization with a mission to provide a nurturing environment for the practice, appreciation and sharing of creative writing. Learn more at writersinthemountains.org.
For quite some time I’ve had the honor and privilege to work with both the Hospital Foundation and the Auxiliary to raise funds for this worthy cause. Read about the Auxiliary leadership team in the Catskills Chronicle, and learn about the goals set for the next two years. Visit margaretvillehospitalauxiliary.com for more details.
The Zadock Pratt Museum in collaboration with Prattsville Art Center presents Prattsville Clews – A Case Study by Clover Archer, an online exhibition exploring micro or granular histories – small ordinary moments in everyday lives that fill in the vast amount of time around lifetime milestones or what is more generally considered “important.”
In the summer of 2019, as an artist in residence at the Prattsville Art Center, Clover Archer worked closely with the Zadock Pratt Museum to learn more about the history of the area. During this time, she met with Prattsville citizens who generously shared their family histories, stories, photographs, and memorabilia. While meeting with local residents, the artist made notations on large family tree charts documenting their stories as the Prattsvillian contributors reminisced. The artist calls these small human histories “clews.” Our contemporary word “clue” is derived from the word “clew,” originally meaning a ball of yarn or thread. In one Greek myth a “clew” or ball of yarn is used to lead the way out of a labyrinth, which is how we have come to understand the word to mean something that leads to a solution or an answer. Thinking of the labyrinth as a metaphor for life, the artist considers these granular histories to be the moments that lead us through the maze of our existence – guiding the way and filling the time between the more memorable and more commonly documented occasions. Based on this information, the artist has created a series of graphite drawings illustrating a small sampling of the clews that are connected to Prattsville. These small details are both particular to Prattsville and yet not geographically specific. Looking at these illustrations of the ordinary (i.e., a broom, a sled, a car, a cow, etc.), we all have associations with them – we see them as familiar and share the humanity of the small particulars. All drawings are 8 x 10 inches, graphite on paper, made in 2019 and 2020.
The project is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and by public funds from the Greene County Legislature through the Cultural Fund administered in Greene County by CREATE/Greene County Council on the Arts, the O’Connor Foundation, New York University, and others.