The Cherry Arts Space turns one


Jamie Swinnerton

Tompkins Weekly


One year ago, as of Sept. 13, a group of artists tried something. They opened a space for art of all kinds that was designed to be malleable, never staying the same for long. The experiment paid off. The Cherry Arts Space has been running full speed ahead for an entire year now, hosting everything from the performances of the theater company that started it, to dance parties, puppet cabarets, sculpture installations, and so much more.

“In terms of the response of the community to – the artists of the community to the space- was so great,” said the Cherry’s Artistic Director Samuel Buggeln. “It’s unbelievable how many events happened here, we were just this little skeleton crew. Someone said we were driving the train while we were laying the tracks.”

Buggeln was ready for a much-needed vacation by the time the company finished production of The Snow Queen last year. The overwhelming business of those first few months took him a bit by surprise.

By April of this year, the Cherry needed to take on a full-time employee to help manage everything that was happening at the space and hired Laura Miller as the general manager. So far Miller is the company’s only full-time employee and things are likely to stay that way for now.

“That, of course, was very stabilizing and very helpful, so it’s been a pretty fast growth to a point, hopefully, of sustainability, in terms of us not burning out, and economic stability,” Buggeln said. “It’s always tricky in the arts. But then we’ve also had wonderful supporters come forward who really believe in the mission, not only of the work that we make but also of the mission to just provide a space for all sorts of things, for installations and for concerts and for small operas from Opera Ithaca, and puppetry, for all of the different things.”

The vision for the Cherry Arts Space is open-ended. Buggeln said the company wants people to bring them things they’ve never heard of or never envisioned in the space. Some of these new ideas have already found success at the Cherry. Lilypad Puppets, a local puppet theater company, brought to the space something called a “crankie.” In a crankie, the story is told, at least in part, through a scroll that is cranked to roll along. Thus was born the Crankie Cabaret, which was a wild success. Then there’s Pop’d, a dance party put on by a DJ collective that wanted to have an event in a space that wasn’t just trying to sell the patrons alcohol. The Cherry gave a home to both.

“So, that was like ‘Ok, good. We thought there was a gap here and it turned out it filled up pretty fast.’ It turns out that was a true suspicion,” Buggeln said of the near-instant popularity of the space. “We weren’t basing it (the space) on anything except the idea of ‘It seems like there would be space for something like this if it worked this way.’ We were kind of making it up, so we were hoping for the best.”

Some of the original ideas about the space have been let go. At first, Buggeln imagined a part of the space could be roped off to act as a lobby of sorts, but it hasn’t worked out that way so far. They were told, as a flexible theater, that they were going to find the one way they like the theater set up and they would end up leaving it that way indefinitely. It makes sense, to deconstruct and put away all of the platforms, chairs, and lights is a lot of work. Then you just have to set it all back up again for the next show. But despite the hard work, Buggeln said the response to the constantly changing theater has been so positive that the hard work has been worth it.

Looking to the future, the Cherry has enough on its plate that expanding or growing in size just isn’t the goal right now.

“This is going to sound weird, but right now I’m not dreaming of spectacular, new things,” Buggeln said. “I feel like, in a sense, to build the building was the spectacular thing, and now we’re aiming to live up to its potential if that makes sense. To have it be stable, and constantly full of great things, and diverse things.”


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment