Bernadette Speach, executive director of the Tannery Pond Community Center in North Creek
The Tannery Pond Community Center Association this past week hired its first executive director since opening in 2002.
Bernadette Speach, of Brant Lake, sat down with the News Enterprise in an exclusive interview Monday, June 4 to introduce herself and talk about the new job she’ll be starting on July 1, the day after the Tannery Pond Community Center celebrates its 10th anniversary with a gala event. And she’ll be taking the same message around town in the weeks to come.
Speach may not have worked in North Creek before, but she likes what she sees.
“I’ve really been amazed by the energy and the genuineness of people,” she said. “One amazing quality here is I see this invaluable volunteerism. At this point, besides that gorgeous building, which was a gift, this is the greatest gift to that center, what these people give and continue to give.”
Speach grew up in Syracuse and has lived in most metropolitan areas of New York state. She earned a bachelor’s degree in music education (piano) at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, studied in Italy and Columbia University in New York City, and received a master’s degree and doctorate in music composition from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
There are three components to Speach’s career: composer/pianist, teacher and arts administrator.
“All of them are actually about being a teacher,” she said.
Although much of her work has been centered in New York City, near her other home in Brooklyn, she was most recently the music program director at the Massry Center for the Arts, College of Saint Rose, in Albany (2008-2010). Her career has taken her from Albany to Manhattan, Troy to Montreal, and Brooklyn to Queens.
So why North Creek?
With a second home in Brant Lake, Speach is no stranger to North Creek. This is where she goes out to dinner, meets with friends and prefers to do her laundry. About 10 years ago, she broke her right knee and soon became friends with her physical therapist, Diana Burns of North River.
“She was the first one who told me about Tannery Pond, and she talked to me about it with great enthusiasm,” Speach said.
Lately, Speach has wanted to spend more time at her Brant Lake home. So when Burns told her about the job opening at the Tannery Pond Community Center, she applied. While the community center serves a variety of functions — home to the local chamber of commerce, a meeting place, and an art gallery — it was the professional auditorium that caught her eye.
“The space itself is incredible,” Speach said. “When I’m comparing it to some of the adventures that I’ve had in presenting, particularly in the New York (City) area, wow, it really has all the qualities that are great for the people that are coming and for the artists who are presenting.”
Speach calls the performing space “beautiful and comfortable.”
“It has everything that you’d want, including a lovely baby grand piano,” she said.
Speach’s job description reveals a variety of duties typical of an executive director. As part of her job, she will:
•engage and energize volunteers, trustees, event committees, partnering organizations and funders.
•develop and maintain a strong relationship with the trustees and serve as an ex-officio on board committees.
•build partnerships and new markets creating additional income.
•create and manage the master calendar of activities for the center.
•use diverse methods of communication to publicize events and raise funds.
•expand revenue-generating and fundraising activities.
•coordinate facility management with the town of Johnsburg staff.
•be active in the community organizations and committees.
“Of all of those, you can see that it’s a lot about communication, it’s all about creating partnerships,” Speach said. “And this is something that I have a great deal of experience in, both as an artist, a presenter, a teacher and particularly as an arts administrator.”
On a larger scale, Speach would like to use her experience to create a touring route from Montreal to New York City, using her many contacts in the arts world to establish North Creek as one of the stops on U.S.-Canada tours for artists.
“Now that the train comes to the town, it connects so well,” Speach said. “I think that this will make it more feasible and practical for artists to go from one place to the other.”
The Tannery Pond Community Center plays an important role as a meeting venue and arts center, and business leaders hope it will play a bigger role in improving the economy of North Creek in the years to come. That’s why the new executive director position was a priority. That’s why the community pooled its resources to raise $50,000 for the first year’s salary. It’s expected that the center will soon become self-sufficient, and that’s one place where Speach can help.
“I’ve been in this situation before,” Speach said.
In the 1990s, philanthropist Robert Soros asked Speach to help rebuild the Kitchen, a center for video, music, dance, performance, film and literature in New York City. It was facing closure and needed someone to help turn around the finances to stay open. And she did. Speach worked three years at the Kitchen, first as the curator of educational programs, then as executive director and then as director of programs. She’ll be taking this experience with her to the Tannery Pond Community Center.
“I think it has to do with not only my experience at doing things but my ability to listen, see what’s up, figure out what the priorities are, and then rebuild,” Speach said.
There’s one difference between the Kitchen and Tannery Pond. Speach’s new job isn’t to get the center back on track but to keep it moving forward.
After her first year on the job, what will people say?
“Hopefully they’ll say they brought in the right person who can listen and do just that, see what’s working and be the guide to bring them where they want to go and how they want to go,” Speach said.
Now that the match is made — Speach and the Tannery Pond Community Center —the executive director’s work begins, even before her official first day on the job.
“Now it’s time for me to meet and to listen to people,” Speach said, adding that one of her first stops will be the North Creek Business Alliance meeting on June 7.
“I’m interested in hearing what everybody has to say, whether they like what’s being done, whether they can see other possibilities for programs there, and I really feel that my job is to support the programs that are there and help to build them and to enhance and expand on them as well,” Speach said.