Doing Plato proud

“So long as there are little children to be introduced to the creative arts and harried adults who missed exposure to great art and literature and timeless music, there will be a need for efforts to increase appreciation of the arts.”

So reads the mission statement of the Woodcock Foundation for the Appreciation of the Arts, whose trustees were presented with the Director’s Chair Award of the Community Arts Center on Sunday evening.

The foundation began its work in 2007, when sisters Lynne Gale and Lorrin Watson decided to liquidate a collection of Western American art their father, Lionel Woodcock, had accumulated over the years.

Woodcock, a businessman based in St. Louis, spent lots of time in New York City on trips. When his colleagues were becoming material for the “Mad Men” writing staff during the cocktail hours, he was taking in paintings and making friends at museums and galleries.

“He had a very good eye for art and was a very astute businessman,” Gale said. “This is much more fun than having art that was in St. Louis.”

Woodcock’s collection, which included paintings by Wild West artists such as Charles Russell, Frederic Remington and George Catlin, now helps put on plays and presentations for students at the arts center. When there are yellow school buses lined up on West Fourth Street, the Woodcock Foundation is at work.

“We brought in a Shakespearian show, and brought in 1,000 students,” arts center Director Rob Steele said. “Two days before the show we got a call from the company, and they said ‘we don’t do an intermission.’ Two hours of a Shakespeare show, and no intermission. I said to myself, ‘call the police, we’re going to have a riot.’ And the kids watched with rapt attention for two hours and stood up and cheered at the end. When you put a student in front of a live performance in this hall, there’s something magical about that.”

Dr. William Martin, chairman of the arts center board, presented the award to the Woodcock trustees – Gale, her son Nick Gale, Watson and Barbara Hudock.

“Since I’m no longer full-time employed, I can walk into these shows,” Martin said. “I saw a program called Magic School Bus, and they’re teaching little elementary kids about global warming. It’s a fairly difficult subject to get your arms around. As a former educator I can tell you they’re doing a great job.”

Steele praised the organization’s working method.

“A lot of places have a grant application that’s the size of a phone book from the ’70s,” Steele

said. “They took 400 man-hours, lots of ink, lots of copy. Your process has been so efficient, but I think very effective.”

“We’re a very low-key organization,” Lynne Gale said. “We’re very much word of mouth. People hear about it and apply.”

Those who think they might qualify for Woodcock Foundation funding have until Dec. 31 to apply for next year’s funding. The foundation’s board meets in March to make decisions, and disbursed about $245,000 last year to 35 groups, many of them in the Susquehanna Valley. Over seven years, the foundation has given $1,824,990 to artistic endeavors here, in Florida, Missouri and now in Montana.

“The arts and music are a moral law,” Hudock said to the Woodcock family. “They give soul to the universe, wings to the mind, life to imagination and charm and gaiety to life and everything. Plato would be proud.”