Arts Alliance a community effort

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the Lycoming County Celebrates the Arts Alliance.

Though initially it may seem counter-intuitive, the fact remains that the Lycoming County Celebrates the Arts Alliance’s roots weren’t based entirely in the arts themselves, but in commerce. In 1961 Williamsport’s Chamber of Commerce was looking for a way to “promote the arts in such a way that industry would grow here, (that) people would want to move to this area,” Dorothy Maples, former board member, president and longtime supporter of the Arts Council, explained in a phone interview.

For more than 40 years, Dorothy Maples has not only supported the creative arts in and around Montoursville, she has lent her voice – performing in numerous theatrical productions throughout the area and playing the harp.

At one point she performed regularly with a trio consisting of a cello and violin alongside her harp, though she has since stopped playing due to health issues. Maples also lent her time (and still does), volunteering extensively with organizations including (but not limited to) the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, Friends of the James V. Brown Library and the Williamsport Community Concert Association.

“I grew up helping whenever and wherever I was. So it was logical when we (Maples and her husband) first arrived here in 1969 that in the following year, I accept(ed) a position on the Arts Council and delve(d) right in to things they were doing,” said Maples. Coming to Williamsport from Rochester, New York via Ann Arbor, Michigan, Maples moved when her husband took a professorship position in the area.

“I was lonely for cultural events,” explained Maples, for whom Williamsport must have seemed a stark contrast to the cities she used to call home.

One of the Alliance’s earliest contributions to the area came in the form of an annual arts festival. Maples didn’t hesitate to “delve right in” and become an instrumental part of the festival’s planning and organization. From there she went on to help coordinate the Alliance’s publication of a regular cultural calendar. At a time before Facebook, Twitter or even personal computers, Maples said that “it really helped people know what was going on, and helped to ensure that events wouldn’t conflict … It was a beautiful calendar.” Williamsport’s Thomas Taber Museum now has those cultural calendars in its collection.

Printed on those calendars would be events that Maples and the Alliance were instrumental in organizing, events like: the Philadelphia Ballet at the Scottish Rite, or a performance by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in Williamsport. This was at a time when seeing an internationally (or even nationally) renowned act was far from a common occurrence in Williamsport.

The largest project Maples was involved in (if not in the figurative sense, then certainly in the physical sense) was organizing the public display of John Zweifel’s 20-ton, 60-by-20-foot replica of the Kennedy-era White House in 1976 to celebrate the Bicentennial. Maples explained that she and the Alliance had big plans for the event, and invited then President Gerald Ford and the first lady as well as NBC anchor Brian Williams. Though the Fords and Williams were unable to come, Williams responded with what Maples referred to as “a lovely note” and the event was an undeniable success.

“We invited miniaturists in the area to come and put the furniture in the rooms under the supervision of the Zweifels. We had many volunteers helping us during the time it was here; we had notified schools in the widest area of its coming and they responded in huge numbers,” explained Maples, adding, “We needed volunteers to help with greeting school bus loads of kids, protecting the other exhibits that surrounded the White House. And we had volunteer security help from the Police Dept.”

Throughout her interview, Dorothy Maples rarely used the word “I”; instead she started sentences with “We organized” and “We managed to.” She made a point to credit as many of the people involved on each project as she could.

She explained that it was Freddie Kisberg, “a wonderful woman,” who originally got her (Maples) involved. She told me that without Barnard Taylor and his wife and their efforts, we may not have the Arts Alliance today.

Both she and Roger Shipley repeatedly mentioned the likes of Hugh MacMullen, June Baskin, Sam Dornsife, and countless others.

It’s easy to roll your eyes on a Friday night and mumble the phrase ubiquitous among adolescents: “There’s nothing to do’ … It’s equally easy to take for granted the fact that Williamsport now has enough pull to book acts like Ringo Starr. Wherever you find yourself on that spectrum, remember: Williamsport’s art scene is growing and improving every year, and that is thanks in no small part to Dorothy Maples and the Lycoming County Celebrates the Arts Alliance.