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Cats and owls and bears, oh my

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    Contributed photo Some of the bears and cats that will soon go on display throughout Cairo and Catskill for the two communities' annual public art project.
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    Contributed photo Several of the owls that will grace the streets of Coxsackie later this month.
May 13, 2018 12:15 am

Roughly 150 fiberglass cats, owls and bears are lined up and ready to be installed throughout Greene County as part of public art projects in three communities — Catskill, Cairo and Coxsackie.

Catskill was the first to blaze the trail, launching the Cat’n Around Catskill public art display more than a decade ago. The project puts on display decorated fiberglass cats on the streets of Catskill, with designs limited only by the artists’ imaginations.

“This is our 12th year. We have quite a following of people who come from all over the Northeast to come and see the cats,” said Karen Robinson from the project’s sponsor, the Heart of Catskill Association. “For a lot of people, it is a family tradition, whether they are local or from outside the area. It attracts people to the area. It is inspiring to see how Catskill takes pride in the cats.”

This year, Catskill has 50 cats, created by 33 artists. The Heart of Catskill sponsors several of the designs.

The Catskill project proved so successful that two other Greene County communities have followed in its footsteps.

The Cairo NY Bears project is sponsored by the Cairo Development Foundation, which has taken over the art project for the first time this year. A similar project was done several years ago by another group, but has been on hiatus since then, until the foundation decided to take it on.

“This is our first year doing this,” said Christie Hicks from the Cairo Development Foundation. “The Cairo Chamber of Commerce did this project in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and then it went on hiatus. Cairo Development has been in business for two years. We are trying to revitalize Main Street in Cairo and bring businesses to the inclusive town of Cairo, which includes Cairo, East Durham, Round Top, Acra and Purling.”

There will be 50 bears put up around the community, created by 33 artists. Some will be put on display on Main Street in Cairo, while others will be on exhibit outside the businesses that sponsored them, where possible.

Rather than recreating the wheel, both Cairo and Coxsackie relied on the wisdom and guidance of their Catskill counterparts, who have been hosting the cats project for many years.

“This would be a ton of work if we didn’t have the help from Cat’n Around Catskill,” Hicks said. “They helped with scheduling, contacts for getting the project done, they were immensely helpful.”

While Catskill was the first community to have such a project — and has been at it for a dozen years — organizers are happy that other Greene County communities are following suit.

“Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” Robinson quipped. “We are very pleased and we hope this grows and gets more people involved. We have been mentoring the other towns so they can get their community art projects launched.”

In Coxsackie, the What a Hoot project includes 52 owls, mirroring what they had in 2017, the inaugural year for the art exhibit. There are 43 artists, with 18 new ones this year. The youngest is only 9 years old, according to organizer Ellen DeLucia.

“We are also fortunate to have 11 new sponsors for the 2018 festival,” DeLucia added.

This year’s owls are somewhat smaller than last year’s sculptures, and many of them will be grouped together in the community, she said.

The owl project got its start last year.

“We were incredibly pleased with the reception that the 2017 owls received, and we saw great enthusiasm in 2017 as soon as the owls began to appear,” DeLucia said. “Works of art, executed by local people and displayed where everyone can enjoy them, can have such a positive impact on a community.”

For Cairo, part of the impetus for the project is to help beautify the community and raise money for future revitalization projects. That, indeed, is the goal of the Cairo Development Foundation itself.

“We want to beautify Main Street and bring businesses in,” Hicks explained. “We want to do work on the fountain, and we just got a Main Street Technical Assistance Grant to have an engineer look at Main Street to target empty buildings and see what we can do to put a business in there.”

Because the Cairo project’s coverage area is so expansive, the town will also include a scavenger hunt in its art project. Launching June 2 with the Teddy Bear Picnic that will be held at Angelo Canna Town Park in Cairo, the scavenger hunt will be designed to encourage people to travel around the area to find the bears.

“Because Cairo is so big, we are doing a scavenger hunt. The brochure will have a tear-off panel and people need to write down the special word that will be on each bear,” Hicks said. “This also supports the business because it will encourage people to visit the businesses that sponsored bears. People can then win free raffle tickets for a chance to win the bear we will be raffling off.”

In a show of Greene County unity, all three communities will exchange one sculpture at the start of the exhibit, so you will see, for instance, a Catskill cat in Cairo, and a Coxsackie owl in Catskill.

The “Birch Bear” will be on display in Coxsackie, the “Motorcycle Cat” will make an appearance on Cairo’s Main Street, “Biker Bear” will go to Catskill on Main Street, the owl sculpture “Engineer” will go to Railroad Avenue in Cairo, “PURR-Owl” is a cat that will go to Coxsackie, and “Owl Love You Eternally” will be placed on Catskill’s Main Street.

Once the public exhibit concludes, each design will go back to its home community, where it will be auctioned off.

In each of the three communities, all of the fiberglass figures will be put up on display around Memorial Day and will be on exhibit through the summer, when they will be auctioned off come fall.

The Coxsackie owls will be sold at an auction and gala Oct. 13 at the Coxsackie Yacht Club. Proceeds will benefit a number of nonprofit organizations in the community, including Sleepy Hollow Lake Helping Hands, Friends of the Heermance Memorial Library, the Coxsackie Food Pantry, the Coxsackie-Athens Foundation for Education, the Coxsackie Police Athletic League, the Town of Coxsackie Ambulance Junior Program, and the Greene County Region NY 13 Blue Star Mothers.

“We are also hoping to contribute to a repair or improvement project in the village of Coxsackie,” according to DeLucia.

The Cairo bears will be put up for auction Sept. 29, with proceeds going to the Main Street Revitalization Project. The Catskill auction, held in the fall, will also go to various local nonprofit organizations and will be used to revitalize and beautify the community —such as projects organizers are eyeing at Dutchman’s Landing.

DeLucia, an artist herself, has participated in the Catskill project for many years, with her cats typically selling for several thousand dollars apiece. Last year she brought her talents to the Coxsackie owl project as well, and this year took over organizing the Coxsackie event.

She said art that can be shared among an entire community has special meaning.

“I believe it instills a sense of ownership and pride in the residents when a village or small town organizes and shares a season-long display of the talent in the area,” DeLucia said. “It’s corny, but the owls were feathers in Coxsackie’s cap, however they weren’t simply beautiful works of art that went home with lucky bidders — they raised funds that had powerful impact, too.”