Mitch Messmore: from Schenectady to Beirut and, eventually, back

By Danielle Furfaro

mitch messmore with paintingMitch Messmore takes the Capital Region art scene very seriously. The Schenectady native has spent the past several years championing local art and attempting to bolster the arts community through his work with various organizations. In 2007, back when cities started getting the art walk bug, he founded Art Night Schenectady. This was just after he became the chairman of the board of the Capital Region Initiative Supporting the Arts and just before he was named the executive director of the Upper Union Street BID. He's also been involved with Upstate Artists Guild, Existing Artists and the Schenectady Photographic Society, just to name a few.

In November of last year, Messmore moved temporarily to Beirut to be with his wife while she is there working on a SUNY research project. You might think that while he is living in the Middle East, Messmore's penchant for local art would have at least been put on the back burner, but the multi-media artist has remained as active and committed as ever, continuing to run Art Night Schenectady via Skype, email and phone with the help of a posse of volunteers.

Now, Messmore has launched Art Night Beirut as a sister organization to the one in his hometown. His exhibiting his abstract paintings at a Beirut gallery. And he's thinking about how to turn the Capital Region into the cultural hub of the Northeast...

Was it daunting to move to such a different culture? What do you like and not like about Beirut?

There was some culture shock, but I adjusted pretty quickly; there's not much I don't like here. The people are great, the food even better. There are things that would drive a normal person crazy, like no lines at the supermarket, unmetered cabs you have to negotiate the price for and crazy drivers. I love it all.

What's the Beirut art scene like?

It is pretty hopping. There are at least five art openings a week, and tons of music festivals and performance art. For me, it is like being a kid in a candy store.

How did you decide that it was feasible to keep organizing Art Night Schenectady while you are abroad?

I had worked out the logistics about six months before I left the states. I knew I could do it and had no worries about Art Night Schenectady falling apart in my absence. I've also helped to organize an Art Night Beirut since I've been here. I'm working with a great group of like-minded artists at the Visual and Performing Arts Association in Beirut.

How did you end up exhibiting your own work in Beirut?

I started painting when I got here. It's a departure from what I'm used to. I listen to the news while I work, and all the works were inspired by stories on CNN and BCC. I approached the gallery with some samples and the premise and they loved it.

On which news stories are the pieces based?

The Egyptian uprising, the Japanese tsunami, power outages in Lebanon, unemployment in the States, global warming, man-made islands in Dubai... There are 13 pieces in the show.

In what type of mediums are you used to working?

My background is in photography, installations and mixed media stuff. But this is the first time I have dabbled in abstract painting.

You're also working for Time Out Beirut. What's that like?

It's pretty cool. I have been doing some freelance writing and photography for them. The staff is half Lebanese and half British, so it's an interesting dynamic. And talk about culture shock.

Do you know when you will be back in Schenectady?

I was back in the states in April and I'll definitely be back for a visit when MoHu happens in October. As far as a permanent return, that's still up in the air. If my wife's project gets extended, I may be here until March 2012.

Why put in so much effort in the Capital Region art scene while you're so far away?

The Capital Region arts scene has something that most areas don't: a sense of community. Capital Region artists are inclusive, not exclusive. And the Capital Region arts are based on talent, not by who you know, which makes it easier for up and coming artists to get involved in the local scene and get their artistic foot in the door.

I continue to champion the Capital Region arts scene, especially in Schenectady, because I believe in the area. I think that the energy and attitude our local artists have can build the Capital Region into the cultural hub of the Northeast. But we need people to foster this feeling.

This interview has been edited. It was conducted via instant message and email.

photo courtesy of Mitch Messmore


Great to see someone so passionate and dedicated. Keep up the good work, Mitch!

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