November 16, 2010

“Sanctuary Keeping it Creative”

Date published: 11/16/2010
Publication: Troy Record

By Phil Drew

Five years into its mission, even the founders of Troy’s Sanctuary for Independent Media concede that mission isn’t always easy to define.

“Sometimes it is hard to communicate,” says Steve Pierce, director of the Sanctuary. “People coming to our events aren’t always sure what to expect. We’re exposing them to information and culture that isn’t generally seen in the corporate media” — by which, he means the mass culture as well as local daily newspapers.

“I don’t mean to sound anti-corporate,” he says. “But there just isn’t much money to be made at this.”

“This,” is the unique mix of entertainment, speakers, training programs and media-arts presentations offered by the Sanctuary, located in a former church at Sixth Avenue and 101st Street in Lansingburgh.

The mix is aptly described by the title given this sixth season of events, already underway: “Raise the Roof!: Celebrating Our First Five Years.” The title was inspired in part by the recent completion of a phase of the ongoing renovations to the building, including a new roof; but also by the rabble-rousing nature of the facility’s programming.

“I think all of our programming is really about creativity,” says Branda Miller, an RPI professor and Pierce’s partner in programming at the Sanctuary.

“Looking at creativity is what makes us human. We are trying to promote a dialogue as a community coming together to make the world a better place.”

Friday night, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and pioneering online journalist Chris Hedges, author of the best selling “War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning” and of the forthcoming “Death of the Liberal Class”  will be the featured speaker. The talk is co-sponsored by the Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace. A veteran foreign correspondent, he is considered a leading authority on international terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11.

The following Saturday — Oct.  23 — Jayne Cortez, performance artist, “blues poet” and activist, will join forces with drummer Denardo Coleman for “A Dialogue Between Voice and Drums,” a provocative performance of word-jazz.

On Oct. 24 the latest in the “Be The Media” workshop series will blend food and storytelling as the team of photographer Ellie Markovitch and writer Amy Halloran lead a personal storytelling workshop entitled “Online Recipe Box.”

On Oct. 29 and 30, the Sanctuary will present an original musical, “Sam Cooke: Where You Been Baby?” on the  life and work of the famed and controversial soul singer.

And that’s just October. Coming in early November, author Scott Christianson will speak on his new nonfiction book “Last Gasp: The Rise and Fall of the American Gas Chamber;” a performance of Stephanie Rothenberg’s “Best Practices in Banana Time,” described as a “mixed-reality talk show;” and Sara Marcus speaking on the history of the “Riot Grrl Revolution,” accompanied by a special performance by the all-female folk ensemble Mountain Man, “a local group out of Bennington, Vt. that is nationally recognized.

Simultaneously, the gallery at the Sanctuary is displaying the work of photojournalist Samantha Box focusing on the plight of homeless gay, lesbian and transgendered youth in urban areas such as New York City.

“We’re not afraid to look at hard issues important to our community,” says Pierce. Indeed, their youth workshop programs are empowering youngsters in the North Troy neighborhood where the Sanctuary is located to focus on their community in some programs that will be aired in December.

That is a lineup both eclectic and provocative. “We’re always programming things you can’t find any place else,” says Pierce. “It can’t just be something you can order on Netflix and sit back and watch at home. It’s got to be something special to get people to come out and watch.”

And they do come out: “generally speaking, we get pretty good audiences for our events,” he says. “It’s a struggle sometimes, because we depend so much on the commercial media to get the word out. But we’ve begun to develop our own network for spreading the word too.”

And they have earned credibility with bookers of niche talents – “for example, bookers of Afro-pop know we’re here and willing to take a chance on unknown artists,” says Miller. It’s not unusual for artists playing bigger venues in markets like New York and Boston to work the intimate confines of the Sanctuary en route to and from those larger showcases.

“Our dream, when we looked at this space five years ago, was, could we get a space with internationally prestigious performers, but also give voice to the local?” she says. “And after five years, we can really say we’re starting to achieve that dream.”

The Sanctuary for Independent Media is located at 3361 Sixth St. at 101st St. in North Troy. For information on upcoming events there, call 207-6264 or visit

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