Anyone familiar with the history of the Adams County Arts Council knows Judy Marti.
A folk musician and farmer by trade, Marti was a founding board member of the arts council nearly 30 years ago. She was honored by friends and colleagues Thursday evening for her vision and her service to the organization, helping to make quality arts education a reality for Adams Countians of all ages.
Marti recalled the meeting that set the stage for the formation of a community arts organization. In 1992, she was on the set of Adams Community Television (now Community Media) for an interview about her music when she met Mark Merrifield, then-director of the Adams County Library System.
The two began discussing the need for an arts organization in Adams County. Merrifield offered meeting space at the library, along with his plentiful knowledge about nonprofit management, to help get the organization off the ground.
“I was a farmer, so there was a difference in background” between herself and Merrifield, Marti said with a laugh.
This meeting was the beginning of a longstanding partnership between the library system and what would become the Adams County Arts Council (ACAC).
Over the next few months, Marti and a small group of volunteers began “putting the puzzle pieces into place,” she said. The founding board comprised “people who had an interest in seeing arts flourish in the area, a grassroots board.”
The first order of business was to determine exactly what Adams Countians wanted from the new organization and how to effectively raise funds.
Through a community needs assessment and strategic planning process, they determined that arts in education was a major need.
At the time, many school districts were struggling with rising property tax rates, so ensuring that the arts remained a part of the education system became a crucial part of the organization’s mission, she said.
“If you have (art) in your education, you start to look for it elsewhere,” Marti said.
Over the years, the ACAC contributed to “another layer of cultural tourism,” in Gettysburg, helping spawn the development of festivals, galleries, and other arts-based attractions.
“There was a change in perception of the value of the arts, and that is a big thing,” Marti said. “If you have a good perception of the arts, you’re more likely to support it in the schools, and you know that it’s economic development.”
Marti said she remembers living in a town in the western United States “where no community arts programs existed.”
“I believe that it was because there were no arts taught in the schools,” she said. “It was also a town that lacked vitality. I would rather live in a place that has a healthy arts sector.”
For the first eight or nine years, the ACAC was run solely by volunteers. As the board raised more funds, the organization began to add staff. All along the way, Marti assisted with grant writing as both a volunteer and part-time employee.
“I didn’t want a full-time job, I didn’t want to be the director,” she said. “I didn’t want it to be ‘my’ arts council.”
The ACAC eventually hired Chris Glatfelter as its first full-time executive director, and in 2011, the Arts Education Center opened on Washington Street in Gettysburg, featuring classrooms, artist studios and galleries, and meeting and event space. Today, the organization boasts more than 500 members and an annual budget of nearly $600,000. According to its website, the ACAC “has brought the joy of the arts to more than 736,000 people.”
Marti said that over the years, the programs she is most proud of are those that brought quality arts education programs to local schools, including artists in residence who performed and talked with students. She also helped develop the ACAC’s STAR Grant program, which awards grants to community organizations for arts-related projects and programs.
As she takes a step back from the arts council, Marti says she is winding down in other aspects of her life as well. She and her husband, Thom, are in the final stages of selling their farm, Broad Valley Orchard, the longest-standing organic fruit and vegetable farm in Adams County.
In retirement, she hopes to get back into what she loves most: her music. She plays the guitar, clawhammer banjo and concertina.
“I wouldn’t mind playing some more music at some point, and we haven’t taken a vacation in a really long time,” she said.
Marti said she’s satisfied with what the ACAC has been able to contribute to the community over the past 27 years.
“We were able in our history to identify things that the community wanted and that had value,” she said. “The arts council is a very valuable and vital organization in our community.”