“The arts are essential to what I call the health and wellbeing of individuals. Without the arts in our lives, we’d be a pretty sad country,” she said.
When she recently sat down for a phone interview, she mentioned that she’d injured her leg in a stumble at her daughter’s wedding, but what was concerning her even more was that her beloved sheepdog, Molly, had also had a fall, dislocating her hip.
Sixteen-year-old Molly “thinks she is a puppy,” said Langsam. Molly and her owner both seem to have unquenchable energy – despite the injury, Langsam was speaking from a car heading from her home to the ArtsWestchester office in White Plains.
Although her focus is countywide, she has been a 20-year resident of Armonk and enjoys its lively arts scene. “I love the library and what they are doing to support the arts,” she said, mentioning the support of the Friends of the North Castle Public Library and its theater and art show activities.
ArtsWestchester, founded as the Council for the Arts in Westchester, provides more than $1.2 million in grants to more than 300 organizations and individual artists.
In 1965, the arts council started life with a $1,500 grant from New York State and now has an annual budget of $3.8 million. When Langsam arrived in 1991, after serving as CEO of the Boston Center for the Arts and as First Deputy Commissioner of the NYC Dept. of Cultural Affairs, the ArtsWestchester budget sat at $1 million.
The council is now just around the corner from celebrating its 50th anniversary next year. “It’s a privilege to be leading this organization through the 50th anniversary; it’s quite an honor,” she said.
For the anniversary year, she is spearheading several ArtsWestchester initiatives – recognizing 50 artists of extraordinary merit, developing 50 new arts and business partnerships and providing 50 new artist residencies in the neediest schools that will demonstrate the role of the arts in technology subjects. In addition, the council will launch a five-year “campaign for the arts” and seek funding for “challenge for the arts,” a matching-grants program.
In the last five decades, she said, “the arts scene in Westchester has developed in extraordinary ways. People want to do things closer to home. We have an aging population and a family population. People enjoy the idea of taking classes and going to activities close to home.”
However, she agreed, since Westchester audiences live so close to New York City, they are discriminating and demand quality.
“Westchester has excelled; there are quality programs here,” she said, citing such major organizations as the Katonah Museum of Art, the Jacob Burns Film Center, Tarrytown Music Hall and Hudson Stage Company, now based in Armonk at the library’s Whippoorwill Hall.
“People want the arts in their lives, not just when they run into Manhattan to see an exhibit or a Broadway show,” she added. Top-shelf culture and entertainment options in Westchester also provide an alternative to the costliness of a Manhattan night out, she noted.
Langsam and ArtsWestchester have also been instrumental in highlighting the contributions of the cultural sector to the county’s economy – more than $156 million in total economic activity, supporting about 4,800 jobs.
The council has affected the downtown White Plains environment as Langsam in 1998 managed the acquisition of a historic bank building that became ArtsWestchester’s headquarters and gallery space.
Langsam is an artist herself, having painted for many years. “I had parents who had us try everything – ballet, piano – and the visual arts stuck.” One of her deep passions is supporting arts education. “We believe that the arts are a wonderful mechanism for learning. The arts are essential to the curriculum; they should be paid for as a part of the school budget,” she said.
Even in a world that focuses on the “STEM” subjects – science, technology, engineering and math – the arts have a place, she said. “Arts are a core language. Creativitity cuts across all subjects. Whatever you are preparing for in life, creativity is an asset,” Langsam stated.
As for her life in Armonk with Molly and her partner, Joe Schneider, Langsam enjoys her neighborhood’s town-and-country landscape. “I love being in Armonk. My house backs onto a golf course. It’s rocky and hilly and it feels like the middle of the Catskills.”
Summing up her work and life, Langsam said, “I care. You can’t advocate for something you don’t believe in. The arts are central to my being.”