DRYDEN — When the Dryden Community Center Cafe closed its doors in January 2020, the owners knew it would not be the end of their mission to bring neighbors together.
“We’ve been meeting, trying to really shift our focus from the cafe to a community center,” said Beth Peck, secretary and former board chairwoman for the organization. But the coronavirus pandemic delayed any community events until this summer.
“We wanted a community event that could just get people out and was fun, so art and music were where we landed, it’s all about just giving people in the community an opportunity to come and hang out,” Peck said.
Peck and board chairwoman Stephanie Mulinos organized the first Dryden Community Arts and Music Celebration on Saturday, inviting artists, photographers and sculptors to set up displays in Montgomery Park.
“I’m so grateful for events like this, especially when it’s outside because then she’s really excited to come,” said Linda Mahoney of Groton, holding her 4-year-old daughter, Carmina.
Carmina said her favorite part was the park’s playground and getting to play with other kids.
“You know, if there’s an event and a playground, it’s perfect,” Mahoney said.
Jacques Schickel, a Dryden sculptor, opted for an interactive exhibit rather than a display table. He provided blank cards with ribbons that could be tied together and hung on the clothesline he set up.
He encouraged visitors to write the names of any loved ones who died recently, whether it was because of the coronavirus, or another cause.
“I think somewhere in all of our minds, COVID is still there,” Schickel said. “People haven’t been able to properly memorialize their loved ones, so I thought this could be a way.”
When the Gallagher family visited Montgomery Park, they expected live music and colorful paintings. When they learned about Schickel’s vision, they saved his table for last.
“I liked the exhibit where you could put the name of somebody who’s passed away,” Megan Gallagher said. The family wrote their grandfather’s name on one card, and their family dog’s name on another. “They’re collecting them all together so people can see it as an exhibit. It’s really beautiful.”
Schickel’s set-up could be seen from every corner of the park, the bright white cards flowing in the breeze, shining in the sunlight.
A few steps away, other artists sat near the shade or under tents, and a food truck was parked near the gazebo, where musicians played.
While Megan Gallagher admired the exhibit, her 8-year-old daughter, Claire worked with artist Raymond Crognale to create a watercolor painting.
“She was learning. He was showing her using a watercolor paper — he soaked it and then he just dropped dots on it, tilting and moving the paper around and just letting the water spread the color,” said her father, Patrick Gallagher.
Helping Crognale, Freeville artist Kelsey Kneeland hung paintings out to dry while she worked quietly on her own watercolor and chatted with visitors and fellow artists.
Kneeland said she was pleased to learn Peck and Mulinos plan more events, because Saturday brought many residents and artists together that otherwise may have never met.
“I think it was a very good start for incorporating more arts here in Dryden,” Kneeland said. “I love to be able to support and see the other artists.”
“Dryden is geographically one of the biggest towns in the county, and there are some challenges there in finding a sense of community,” Peck said. “If people feel connected to their community, then they want to make it a good, better place to live.”
“Our long-term goal is to have a physical space, a community center space that could be used by different community organizations, school groups, scouts, churches — whatever it may be,” Mulinos said.