Saying she is looking forward to relaxation and travel and getting back to a little community activism, M. Jacquie Allen Lodico will retire at the end of the year from her job as the first -- and only -- executive director the Niagara Council of the Arts.
And, almost simultaneously, Lodico's 30-year tenure as an arts administrator and advocate will be recognized by the Alliance of New York State Arts Organizations, which has created a new award for distinguished service to the community arts field in the state, according to Judith Kaufman Weiner, executive director of the alliance, and Patricia Berman, associate director.
Lodico will receive the award at the alliance's annual awards ceremony and celebration of the arts in December at Lincoln Center in New York City.
"Jacquie is first and foremost in the length of her tenure which is significant and exceeds anybody else working in an arts council by 10 years," Berman said.
"She has developed the Niagara Council to be a catalyst in that community by developing cultural tourism opportunities, partnerships with neighboring organizations to make the arts paramount, assisting artists, presenting the arts, giving classes in the arts, having tours. Basically, she's served every function in the state, been on the boards of many state organizations. I believe her energy and vision have been seminal to the development of the community arts movement in New York State. She's a terrific role model."
The Niagara arts council was incorporated in 1969, an off-shoot of the Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce cultural committee. Anthony J. Rendina, former chairman of the committee and a former arts council president, said Lodico approached him about trying to stop the city from selling the former Carnegie Library building on Main Street to be used for a restaurant. Lodico already had helped organize a successful protest against proposed low-income housing on the DeVeaux School Campus on Lewiston Road.
Rendina said when the group went to then-Mayor E. Dent Lackey and the City Council to protest, they were asked to leave the room for a few minutes. When they were called back in the arts council was given the building plus $13,000 to pay for utilities. He said Lodico secured a $5,000 grant to remove the old library shelving, sand the floors and reconstruct the stairway.
"It was the first grant application I ever wrote, at my kitchen table with my kids running around. Until then we had $300 in our checking account," Lodico recalled, adding that for the last five years, the arts council budget has been about $500,000 a year.
Lodico said she learned recently from Social Security that she collected her first paycheck from the council in 1973.
Programs have expanded to include the 22-year-old ArtWheels, a mobile arts education service that provided 84 workshops last year; Kidfest!, an annual weekend of free professional entertainment and visual arts programs at Hyde Park; performances and instruction in various artforms for minority neighborhoods. Programs served 17,000 youths this year, she said.
Other Arts Council programs include grants and services to individual artists as well as the popular 23-year-old Summer Experience of performance and ethnic festivals in E. Dent Lackey Plaza.
Rendina said the city benefited from the Summer Experiences "because we were selling downtown when there was no one else to sell."
As the head of a not-for-profit organization that depends on many levels of government for 45 percent of its budget, Lodico said she always tried to remain "apolitical." But, staying out of politics in Niagara Falls has been very difficult, she said, even though the council has had an unofficial rule of never inviting politicians to sit on the board.
"I'm going to be very proactive after retirement," she said. "That's something I will enjoy, to take a stance on community issues."
She also plans to enjoy spending time with her six children and nine grandchildren. She said she wants to do more volunteer work and to travel with her husband, James J., a former aide to retired state Assemblyman Joseph T. Pillittere.