By Kelli Kyle and John Stanley
Since about 7:30 a.m., 12-year-old Samuel Smith has been stationed in the meeting-room turned-theater space on the third floor of the Community School of Music and Arts (CSMA) on State Street in downtown Ithaca. It’s a Saturday, and instead sleeping in, Smith is heading a community arts project, stacking dominoes for a cause. Throughout the day, community members wander in and out of the space, creating their own section of domino art. Later, Smith will connect the creations, and at 4 p.m. sharp, he and his crew will knock down the giant chain of domino artwork they spent all day designing.
“I’ve always been a fan of this kind of stuff,” Smith said. “I thought this might be a chance to share my work.”
Smith’s project is just one of the many going on over the next two weeks to support the 8th Annual Arts for All Marathon. This is a yearly fundraising effort for the CSMA that features an online art auction, community art events and a new online campaign run by GiveGab. All of the proceeds go toward the organization’s scholarship fund. This year, they hope to raise $40,000 for their program. According to the website, since its start in 2008, the marathon has raised over $120,000 to help low-income families attend CSMA classes at a reduced tuition rate.
“We want our classes to be accessible to as many people as possible,” said Robin Tropper-Herbel, executive director of the CSMA.
As the executive director, Tropper-Herbel is responsible for coordinating the marathon’s auctions and events. The auction features multiple works in the CSMA gallery from local artists that people can bid for online. The other half of the Arts Marathon is the fundraising events, which take place mainly at the CSMA building and allow community members to participate in arts projects and classes for a small requested or suggested donation.
Many of the artists featured in both the gallery auction and the community events are local residents — a concept that Tropper-Herbel said reflects the mission of the CSMA.
“Community is the first word in our name and that’s essentially what we are here for,” Tropper-Herbel said. “Arts learning, making and for the enjoyment, whether it’s through a show or participation.”
The CSMA was founded in Ithaca over 50 years ago by Eunice Weber in an effort to give all community members the opportunity to participate in the arts. Over the years, the school has offered classes in art, music, dance, theater and even world languages. Gertrude Vrabel, 89 and now retired, taught alongside Weber at the CSMA around the time of its founding. She said the scholarship fund was a part of Weber’s original vision for the school.
“She came from a poor family. She loved music,” Vrabel said. “Her idea was in a music school everyone should be able to learn about music, through music. That means scholarships were always necessary.”
Upon emigrating to the United States from Austria in 1952, Vrabel became friends with Weber, who invited her to teach “Music Kindergarten” at the CSMA. She had taught a similar program in Austria — a class that engages young children with music and musical instruments. Later, Vrabel would teach German at the school and create a recorder ensemble.
“It’s my life’s work there. I enjoy it,” Vrabel said. “CSMA gave me the chance, really, to teach, which is my life. I love teaching.”
A separate recording ensemble, “The Big Toot Recorder Group,” took the stage Sunday for the Arts for All Marathon. She passed it down in her retirement, but the group continues to perform under Vrabel’s successor. Over the next two weeks, patrons can also expect a variety show, theater production, dance show and more, all contributing toward the CSMA fundraising efforts.
“It’s also an opportunity to showcase and celebrate all of the creativity that goes on in this community,” Tropper-Herbel said. “The fact that we’re engaging artists of all kinds, all ages, who are willing to participate to raise funds for our organization is fabulous.”
The auctions and events will wrap up on November 23. Those interested in donating may visit the CSMA 8th Annual Arts for All Marathon website.