Commonwealth Journal

March 11, 2014

Watershed Arts Alliance celebrating 25 years in Somerset

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

Watershed Arts Alliance isn’t quite as old as Daniel Stroud — but it’s close.
The youthful Stroud, current director of the  grassroots arts organization, is 29 years old.
Watershed (WAA), on the other hand, is celebrating its 25th anniversary, after having its first meeting in early 1989.
Now, however, seems like the perfect time for the two to meet and produce great things for Pulaski County.
 Stroud has been director of the organization for a little under a year now, acquiring the title last July after joining WAA in May. It started out as just a way to branch out and become more connected to the community.
“Until I started working at the print shop, I knew almost no one in town,” said Stroud, a graphic designer at Commercial Printing in downtown Somerset. “(After that,) I met a bunch of people, started getting to know the community, really dove in headfirst trying to get involved the best ways I knew how.”
Stroud said that he’s always been drawn to artists and like-minded people. Moreover, music — in many ways, the lifeblood of WAA over the years — has always been a passion.
“I really like the local music scene and found Watershed,” said Stroud. “... Within a couple of months, they asked me to be director.
“I moved around a lot (when younger), and had a little bit of a sheltered life,” he said. “For me, playing music and listening to music was always my therapy. My worst day I could ever image would be a day when I don’t listen to music or play it. It’s been such a special thing to be, and when I see other people around me excited about it, that’s what I want to surround myself with.”
Indeed, that’s what WAA is all about. After first being conceived of in the fall of 1988, the group was officially born the next year as the brainchild of Charlie Carr, Danny Dutton, John and Meg McClory, and Kirby Stephens.
Pauline House, owner of Keyboard Classics in Somerset, attended meetings in the early days and quickly became an integral member of the group.
“They had what they called at first ‘The Black Hole,’” she said with a laugh, noting the name reflected skepticism about the group’s public reception. “In a year or two, that changed. The name came from a confluence of ideas about arts ... that the visual and performing artists could have a place to perform.”
Last year alone, nearly 4,000 people have attended Watershed performances, classes and art venues supported by WAA funds and volunteers, according to information provided by the organization. 
“By providing cultural opportunities for our community not normally available in a small rural town in Kentucky, like hearing an opera or a jazz or classical group, WAA is able to open ‘windows’ for our community audiences, especially for our youth who may never have an opportunity for such an experience otherwise,” according to a statement provided by member Janie Hail.
WAA receives $6,000 in financial support yearly from the Pulaski Count Fiscal Court, $533 from the Kentucky Arts Council and approximately $7,500 from the City of Somerset. Additional funds are raised through paid memberships and community donations and sponsorships. All events are funded beforehand, and most of the work done organizing them is done by WAA volunteers.
Current board members include Pauline House, John Polk, Janie Hail, Zac Walker, John Fitzwater, Debbie Wiles, and two new members joining this Monday, Terri Reynolds-Hardwick and Delaney Stephens. Also, Stroud said Joe LaMay is an acting board member as a volunteer.
Stroud started quickly, organizing new projects for WAA.
“One of my first projects was to bring an amphitheater to downtown Somerset,” he said. “That was the idea we first came up with from my directorship. We got support from the mayor and from Rocky Hollow Park. It’s really been an amazing cooperative event, getting help from everybody.”
Space is currently being excavated in Rocky Hollow Park, in the area down the hill from the Pulaski County Public Library.
“It’s going to be a great place,” said Stroud. “We’re hoping to bring a concert series there. Hoping to have plays out in the park, rent it out for musical events.”
Stroud is keeping Watershed active; just this weekend, dulcimer player Sarah Morgan was sponsored by WAA to give lessons and a performance with her instrument at Science Hill School and perform at Lucy’s Art Gallery on Friday night. The Ogden Street venue is one of several places Watershed uses to host events, now that the former home of Riverstone Gallery on Market Street is no more (neither does the group use its one-time home on Vortex Corner either). As such, the group has returned to its nomadic roots.
“We move (events) around,” said Stroud. “Lucy’s Gallery maxes out at about 30 people. For larger venues, we use the grand room at the Carnegie (Community Arts Center). We’ve found some new partnerships lately that we hope will bring in some better events for them and for us.”
Stroud is proud to head up the “oldest arts organization in the area,” as he noted, and said that the 25th anniversary milestone is a great opportunity to “acknowledge Watershed and what it’s done, but as far as moving forward, it’s more a 2014 thing than a 25 years thing,” he said.
“It’s a huge honor that I was invited and given the directorship so suddenly,” he said. “This is a great town, and obviously there’s a legacy to be taken from the last 25 years, as well as great talent coming up now.
“This is prime time for Watershed,” he added. “The pulse of winter is telling me everybody is ready to get outside and enjoy each other’s company this summer. “This is going to be the best summer for Somerset in a long, long time.”