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Why the Arts Matter in Rural Communities

By March 22, 2020No Comments


It seems like a vital time for me to speak with the community on a regular basis via my blog – and as I reactivate today I am reminded of what I said to the NY Assembly in December. This was published in The Eagle in December.  For those of you who missed it then, I welcome your thoughts about it now.  At the end you’ll see quotes from many of our neighbors on why the Hall matters in their lives.  I hope we can continue to serve for many years to come – David Snider

On Thursday, December 12, 2019, I testified to members of the NY Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development. I spoke about the importance of capital funding for the arts, especially in rural areas including Washington County, and urged the committee to increase their funding. Every dime invested in arts organizations and artists is doubled – and even tripled – with private support. The arts help to drive local economies and lead to greater growth. According to recent data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts, New York’s artistic and cultural sector generated approximately $114.1 billion to the state economy and employed approximately 462,600 people across the State. This ranks New York second among all states in arts and cultural value added to the economy and in arts and cultural employment!

In 1878 Martin and Mary Hubbard had the radical idea that, in order for people to have a rich and satisfying life in Cambridge, they needed an arts center. So they built one. Today we have the plans to fully restore and renovate Hubbard Hall to reflect its 1891 appearance, while serving world-class artists, visitors and residents alike, with 21st century technology. Once fully restored, the Hall will be an artistic and economic beacon, drawing more residents, tourists, artists and businesses to Cambridge, ushering in a new era of economic and community growth here in Washington County. I urge you to support this work. Every dollar helps. or 518-677-2495, ext. 311 to donate. I’m including my full testimony to the committee here.

December 12, 2019

To: The Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development

From: David A. Snider, Executive & Artistic Director of Hubbard Hall Center for the Arts and Education in Cambridge, Washington County, New York.

RE: The Vital Importance of Capital Funding for the Arts

Mr. Chairman and Honored Assembly and Committee Members and Staff:

I am David Snider, Executive & Artistic Director of Hubbard Hall Center for the Arts and Education in Cambridge, New York. I’m here today to testify to the vital importance of capital funding for the arts, especially in rural environments such as Washington County and my village of Cambridge. I have led Hubbard Hall since 2014, having lived and worked in Washington, DC for 13 years and in Manhattan for seven years before that, so I bring a unique perspective as someone who has worked in the arts in two of our largest arts communities in the nation and now in a beautiful, rural and somewhat smaller arts community. Since relocating from Washington, DC I have been blown away by how much, as a small rural community, we are able to leverage investment in us for greater growth, artistic excellence and services for residents and visitors alike.

And even though we are somewhat rural and remote, earlier this year Washington County was ranked as one of the most culturally vibrant counties in the United States by the DataArts Project at Southern Methodist University. This project published a Cultural Vibrancy survey online (, measuring how culturally vibrant communities are at the county level across the U.S. by comparing them to all other counties.[1]

Washington County was ranked as more culturally vibrant than 89% of other counties across the U.S., with 83% more arts providers than other counties (including 90% more arts and culture organizations and 71% more independent artists present), as well as 79% more arts dollars spent in the county than in other counties throughout the United States.

Yet our population continues to decrease. Between 2016 and 2017 the population of Washington County, NY declined from 62,465 to 62,183, a -0.451% decrease. I know from my experience in DC that the arts, and Hubbard Hall specifically as a vibrant arts organization, is slowing this decline and can be part of the solution to keep more residents living and thriving in Washington County while drawing more people to move there for the services we provide. Hundreds of residents, especially young professionals with families, have told me that Hubbard Hall was the number one reason they decided to move to Cambridge and raise their families there. I know it was for me as well.


Hubbard Hall currently generates dozens of direct jobs each year for staff, teaching artists and artists, plus contractors, vendors and suppliers. As the largest and oldest arts nonprofit in Washington County, the Hall has contributed millions of dollars in activity and thousands of jobs for the local economy. We also train and employ local residents as artists, teaching artists and part-time staff.

We also have helped to sponsor and develop local for profit businesses through consultation, incubation and by providing affordable space rentals, including the Round House Bakery Café (which invested $100,000 in private support when installing its new kitchen on our ground floor), the Valley Artisans Market (our tenant since 1981) and Argyle Brewing Company (which moved its business into Cambridge at our urging in 2017).

In 2006, we successfully completed a $2.2M capital campaign with the Cambridge Community Partnership to purchase and restore three more Freight Yard buildings behind the opera house and to convert these to visual arts, dance, music, education and theater spaces that now support our year-round arts education programs on campus.

Hubbard Hall was built and opened in 1878 by Martin D. Hubbard, a leading businessman and entrepreneur in Cambridge, NY, with the radical idea that a thriving community needed a vibrant arts center at its core. The rival West Side of Cambridge had their own Ackley Hall on West Main Street since 1869. The country was in a deep recession that stopped most construction projects. So a strong neighborhood rivalry and the need to keep his employees employed led Martin D. Hubbard to build his own grander Hall on the East Side of Cambridge.

After Martin’s death six years later, his wife Mary Hubbard led the Hall as a dynamic and socially active hotspot for the next 25 years. In 1891 she also renovated the Hall, expanding the stage, adding more decorative flourishes to the proscenium and having Charles Huiest of Troy, NY paint a new grand drape and six sets of classic scenery for the theater (two of which are still in use today). Mary was also very active in social campaigns for Prohibition and Women’s Suffrage with her dear friend and colleague Susan B. Anthony. During its first fifty years, Hubbard Hall often functioned as a civic or religious center with continuous political rallies, high school graduations and even church services, hosting equally Catholics and Protestants, Republicans and Democrats. Susan B. Anthony led a two-day Women’s Suffrage Convention in Hubbard Hall on February 8-9, 1894, hosted by Mary Hubbard.

From 1878 until its initial closing in 1927, Hubbard Hall presented thousands of traveling operas, plays, concerts, magic acts, special events, and lectures to the people of Cambridge and Washington County, NY. The renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers performed five times. Camilla Urso, one of the first women in America to publicly perform violin, played on our stage in 1883. In 1894, on their way to perform in Washington, D.C., the South African Native Choir shared their voices and spirits with our community.

By 1927, vaudeville and traveling theater was dying out, with radio and movies quickly replacing it. Leading the Hall to go dark, with just the downstairs stores staying active, for the next fifty years. Finally in 1977, a group of like-minded community members became aware of the Hall’s owner’s willingness to perhaps sell the property for the price of $20,000. Rallying the Cambridge community to raise most of this money from small donations, the Founders formed a nonprofit, Hubbard Hall Projects, Inc., and got to work restoring and activating Hubbard Hall once again, starting with a small café and coffee house in the basement, suitably named “Under the Bell Tower.” Gradually this group restored heat to the Hall and activated the entirely building as a dynamic community arts center.


Today Hubbard Hall is a thriving arts center dedicated to cultivating, sustaining and promoting the cultural life of our rural community in Washington County, NY and throughout the Capital Region. We gather people from all walks of life to create, learn, and grow together, while developing, producing, and presenting world-class art and artists. We are also committed to restoring and preserving Hubbard Hall and all of the buildings on our campus as community cultural assets.

We produce theater, music, dance and visual arts events year-round, while offering classes and arts education programming both on our campus and in schools throughout the region. We have deep partnerships with our local school districts, along with Skidmore and Bennington Colleges and a new artist residency partnership with The Bushwick Starr in Brooklyn, NY, which brings artists from the city to Cambridge for week-long residencies to help develop their work and provide our rural audiences with world-class previews of new work before it premieres in Brooklyn. Last month we hosted a theater company from West Cork, Ireland, who came to the U.S. at our invitation and performed Brian Friel’s Faith Healer for our rural audience. Perhaps most importantly, in this time of deep social and political division, Hubbard Hall serves as a bridge for various community members to connect and communicate. We provide a safe space where varying points of view can come together and explore our shared humanity.   We also give people, especially our young people and students, a chance to find their voices, develop new skills, build their confidence and realize their full potential. We expect to serve approximately 8,000 audience members and students and dozens of professional artists over the course of this year, in our tiny village of 1900 residents.

But we could not do any of this without investment with capital funds, especially in our facilities to preserve and update our buildings.

In 1878, when Martin Hubbard built Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, there was already an opera house in town. Most small villages in the country had one. Shushan had one, Eagle Bridge had one, Greenwich had three. Now, 141 years later, Hubbard Hall is the last remaining opera house in Washington County.

It is a rare treasure – an original 1878 Opera and Vaudeville House still containing most of its original design elements and operating as an arts center. Miraculously, the Hall has been preserved and maintained almost entirely with volunteer labor since 1977. But it cannot continue for very long without major restoration and renovation work to save the building and activate its potential as a true destination theater.

With a partially painted over ceiling, cracked walls with water damage and chipped details and only a few fading stenciled details left, the design of the Hall is quickly fading into the past and needs to be restored as soon as possible before it is lost forever. Hubbard Hall’s walls and ceiling are in desperate need of restoration and the space itself is not easy to access for visiting audiences or artists.

Today audiences and arts participants expect to feel safe and comfortable in any space they visit. Hubbard Hall is safe but still not entirely user friendly.

For example, the Hall’s primary public restrooms are still located in our basement, two floors down from the main Hall. This poses a strong barrier to participation for older audience members and families with young children, who must make a long trek to the bathroom during our intermissions. Luckily in 2018 we were granted $50,000 from the New York State Council on the Arts and our Regional Economic Development Council and the Mid-size Capital Funds program to implement new restrooms on the main level of the Hall. As a small arts organization in a rural area, our donor and funding pool can be limited, so it was vitally helpful that this opportunity required no matching funds.

We have since leveraged this support for another $30,000 in private support for the project and have applications in to two more funding opportunities to gain perhaps another $50,000 towards the project. If we gain this additional $50,000, we will have more than doubled the investment from the state, to the tune of an additional $80,000 of investment.

And while our smaller, less affluent local population can mean it’s tougher for us to raise huge matching funds, we also sometimes suffer from being designated as a part of the Capital Region. Because often funders and donors may have an urban bias in their funding, even if they do not realize this bias. This leads many more funds and grant opportunities to be available to more urban-based nonprofits in Albany and Schenectady than in rural Washington County.

In 2017, when capital funds were available from NYSCA at only the $500,000 amount or greater, with a required match, this grant opportunity seemed to strongly favor larger arts organizations. Nevertheless, we created, in partnership with our preservation architect Mark Thaler and a design team including Adirondack Studios, SAVI sound and video and Evergreene Architects, a complete plan and budget for the restoration and renovation of Hubbard Hall. This plan would allow us to restore the Hall to its 1891 appearance while updating all of our lighting and technical equipment with 21st century technology. If we could ever gain a grant in the amount of $1M in support of this work from the state, without a required match, we would be able to launch a capital campaign and confidently raise at least another $500,000 towards the project over the course of five years. The renovation of the Hall would also activate our space as a much greater economic driver for the region and as a destination that would positively contribute to our local economy and jobs market.   The Historic Structure Report I have given the committee today documents the entire physical history of Hubbard Hall and lays out a path for its restoration and renovation.

Hubbard Hall has an economic impact of approximately $604,000 supporting 19 FTE jobs, based on the Americans for the Arts Economic Impact Calculator. When fully restored, Hubbard Hall will grow to a projected $1.2 million impact, serving 12,000 visitors per year and supporting 39 FTE jobs in the region. This doubling of impact will have a significant effect on the local economy, and will showcase Hubbard Hall as a rural arts economic driver. Our current partnerships with local businesses, local food producers, artists and craftspeople will grow and develop reach beyond the region, serving as a cultural beacon, a creative place making project in a rural village center, and a gateway to the cultural tourism and civic life of Washington County. The Hall will attract tourists, artists, students, and new residents. An investment of capital funds will inject jet fuel into our economic endeavors and allow us to create dozens of jobs and a real tourism destination in the heart of Washington County.

Your support for capital funds in the arts in New York – in particular for rural arts organizations – has a huge impact on our communities: growing our local economies and drawing new residents. I urge you to continue and grow that support, especially for smaller but vibrant organizations including Hubbard Hall.

Addendum – Attracting New Residents

We know many current residents either moved to or stay in Cambridge because of Hubbard Hall. Here are a sample of quotes from working professionals and parents who attest to this fact:

Hubbard Hall is the very reason we moved to the Cambridge community 33 years ago. While looking to purchase a home in the surrounding town, we walked past the Hall and heard music from upstairs in the hall, coming from a rehearsal of the local dance company. As a member of the NYC theatre community, I recognized that Hubbard Hall and Cambridge would become our home. In the years since that day, our three children, now adults, spent many hours in the Hall, listening to classical, folk and American music, taking part in Children’s theater productions, dance and visual arts classes while understanding the beauty of professional theater and cultural education emanating in their home town.

Our children are now parents with children who experiencing the same, high quality cultural expression, through classes in dance, theater and visual arts, as we have held dear for the past three decades. Supporting the arts in rural communities is of vital importance to our citizens, our state and our country, where too many are spending hours in front of TVs instead of sharing common experiences spent in live theater, musical and cultural exchanges we, as members of the Hubbard Hall community, hold so close to our hearts. – Scott Carrino, co-owner of Round House Bakery Cafe

Our children have been attending classes and events at Hubbard Hall since we moved to Cambridge in 2010.  Ballet classes, puppet classes, theater productions, plays, Holiday Breakfasts, writing workshops and summer theater camps have been a part of their lives since they were 5 and we see many more classes and events in our future.  They have grown up with Hubbard Hall as a constant, safe and welcoming space to explore their artistic sides.  Hubbard Hall brings diversity and artists we do not usually see in our rural setting.  Hubbard Hall reaches beyond our community and helps to bring the world to us. Thank you for all that you do, David!

– Christine Congolesi-Lulla, Bennington College staffer

Matt and I are both educational transplants to the region (Bennington and RPI). We wanted to stay in the area and chose Cambridge as the best place to raise our kids. Hubbard Hall was a big part of that decision.  Our kids have received quality arts education in theater and dance, and the whole family appreciates the outstanding programs, rare for anywhere, much less in a rural community.  Hubbard Hall continues to attract young families and helps keep our little town vibrant. Please thank the legislature for their wise investments in the arts. – Alane Ball Chinian, Regional Director – Saratoga-Capital District Region, NY State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation

We love Hubbard Hall. It’s the number one reason we moved to Cambridge. The classes, the sense of community and the variety of opportunities is what drew us in. In particular, the theatre program has a special place in our hearts, as all three of our children have grown up acting, singing and dancing on that beautiful stage. Hubbard Hall is vital to Cambridge and its surrounding communities and without it, our area would suffer a great loss of connection, belonging and opportunity for growth. Thank you for working so hard to preserve its place and its programming.  – Diane Nolan, Psychotherapist

I am still fencing at 67 and will have a show of my masks at Valley Artisans Market next September.  I would not be doing those things without Hubbard Hall. – Anne Dambrowski, Arts Administrator

Hubbard Hall provides a heartbeat in our small, rural upstate village. Theater, music, and arts events unite the community in a culture of expressive celebration, intellectual challenge, and personal expansion. The Hall draws a larger, distributed community from around the village and beyond into the center of town where it anchors and complements other small businesses such as our very own Battenkill Books. We have partnered with Hubbard Hall on a variety of community events which have all been made stronger by capital funds that have supported infrastructure and planning. The arts are a natural resource that government should support with strategic funding. – Chris Callahan, co-owner, Battenkill Books

Countless studies have proven the impact the arts have on economies.  In rural Washington County, Hubbard Hall has served as an engine for the creative economy—drawing multifaceted artists, crattspersons, and ancillary businesses to our community along with visitors.  Because of capital investments made by NYS in arts organizations like HHP our rural community’s Main Street remains vibrant. – Sarah Ashton, chair of the Cambridge Valley Community Partnership

When we were house hunting in Washington County in 2000 our realtor told us about Hubbard Hall. Twenty years later we have been immeasurably impacted by Hubbard Hall. We have attended a wide variety performances of every kind; we have taken countless classes; and we have volunteered for community events, Galas, festivals, holiday events and fundraisers. I began teaching Irish dance there (which I learned in my largely Irish community outside NYC as a child), and have now taught for 15 years with roughly 60 students a year. Our daughters grew up there, and learned valuable skills like teaching, catering/serving, and childcare, in addition to the performance, public speaking, acting, dance, direction, scenic design, playwriting, improv, opera, music and community which has shaped their lives and influenced their futures. It has given them ownership of something valuable, an historic gem to protect and share. Hubbard Hall is a hive of activity with creative people and an inspiring atmosphere. It is a place where art lives, education abounds, and visions take shape. And for us it has been a place to proudly invest our time and raise our children. – Darcy May, Artist and Administrator

There’s no life without art… In a world where art is increasingly harder to have access to, our community needs Hubbard Hall to continue to feed art to ourselves and our children so there can be a future. – Colleen Viera, Arts Administrator

My take on Hubbard hall is that it is gives our community character and provides an opportunity for children and adults to learn and express themselves. Many rural communities are not as fortunate as we are. I’m sure Hubbard Hall has provided a purpose and a sense of belonging to many over the years. We need Hubbard Hall!  – Jason Nolan, Owner, J. Nolan Electric Corp.

David Snider, the Executive & Artistic Director of Hubbard Hall, is the main reason we now have a tasting room in Cambridge.  He approached us in 2015 about moving into Cambridge, pitched us on growing our business into the community, and the rest is history.   – Chris Castrio, Co-Founder and Owner, Argyle Brewing Company

[1] This data was mined from the following sources: the U.S. Census Bureau, SMU DataArts, IRS 990s, Theatre Communications Group, the National Endowment for the Arts, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, and Institute of Museum and Library Services.


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