Even though the much loved "Utica Monday Nite" series came to a close this year, the Sacred Music Concert Series, long a Monday Nite favorite, was ressurescted by The Historic Old St. John's Choir on Monday, June 11, 2012. Rev. John Buehler, Pastor of the downtown landmark, planned the concert as a way to pay tribute to UMN founder Lynn Mishalanie.
The stunningly restored interior of St. John's was cooled by it's new central air conditioning unit, to the delight of the near capacity crowd seeking relief from the late spring heat that unexpectedly took hold in the city. Many familiar faces, some stalwart UMN volunteers, others dedicated attendees, filled the church in anticipation of the musical selections to be presented by the Choir of St. Johns. Lead by longtime music director and organist Angela Nassar, the concert was opened with "Joyful, Joyful ,We Adore You (Hymn of Joy)" by Ludwig Van Beethoven. One selection, "The Prayer," by Carol Bayer Sager and David Foster, was powerfully presented by soloists Jill Bush and Patrick Marthage. The appreciative audience rose to it's feet for a standing ovation at the conclusion of the song, and would not sit down before the two dynamic soloists took a bow.
The Battle Hymn of The Republic concluded the concert, but not before Rev. Buehler rose to present Lynn with a huge bouquet of white roses edged with red. According to Father, Historic old St. John's had been a part of the UMN Sacred Music Series since it's inception. The choir felt that there was no better way to show their appreciation to Lynn for all that she has done to promote the arts than to use their gifts and talents to honor her.The concert was their way of saying "thank you" for all that she has done to promote arts in the Utica area and for giving sacred music a venue to be heard by all.
Lynn graciously accepted the bouquet and, not used to or being comfortable with such a show of love and appreciation from the community, thanked everyone for the honor that they had bestowed upon her by being present for not only that night's concert, but for the entire fifteen years of UMN.
And then it was over. As the crowd filtered out of the church, I could not help but feel the huge loss that our city has experienced with the end of UMN. Yes, the program's mission was to promote the arts and celebrate the tradition of Monday night downtown shopping that existed for decades in Utica. But, it was so much more!
Utica Monday Night was an economic development tool. By putting Downtown Utica on a stage every Monday, we were able to show that the city was clean, safe, friendly, and open for business! No other local marketing program did as much to promote the city as did Lynn and UMN. Over 40,000,00 calendars were printed and distributed throughout the region every year to promote Utica and UMN. The "Cultural Corridor, " a term crafted by Lynn to give our region an identity, exposed the amazing talent and diversity of the arts in our community.
Initially, local government "got it" and supported the program. As the years progressed, the angry, suspicious and mean spirited tenor of our politicians began to peck away at the funding. Local corporate support began to diminish as well. By 2011, Lynn, with UMN deeply in debt and the economic downturn being used as an excuse by elected officials to pull all funding, decided to close the curtain on the 2012 season.
The enormity of the loss of UMN is not even yet known by those who benefitted from it. The city has lost it's only true marketing and promotional vehicle. The citizens have lost a reason to explore the city every Monday night. The elected officials congratulate themselves and wax on about how they are "cutting costs and keeping us safe." But, at what price?
During WW2, with bombs dropping over London, and with the treasury nearly empty, advisors to Winston Churchill suggested cutting all funding to the arts. Close the museums, shutter the theaters, end all the concerts. Save the money for what was "truly important."
Mr. Churchill refused. His reasoning was clear and simple. "If we do that," he stated, "then what are we fighting for?"
Where is our Winston Churchill?