NEW DIRECTOR — Gerald “Jerry” Deis, a native of Ithaca, is now the new executive director at Rome Art & Community Center, 308 W. Bloomfield St. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)

New RACC exec director returns to roots in region

Published Mar 12, 2017 at 9:00am

After working for the film industry in New York and Los Angeles, Gerald “Jerry” Deis has chosen to return to his roots in upstate New York and help expand on the arts and culture activities Rome has to offer.

Late last month Deis was named the new executive director of Rome Art and Community Center, 308 W. Bloomfield St.

Deis, a native of Ithaca, and his wife, who is originally from Norwich, decided to make Rome their home — a place to appreciate what makes the area unique and expand on that.

The 26-year-old attended Tompkins County Community College and received his bachelor’s degree from SUNY Purchase. With his education and experience lying largely in film and video production, Deis said he wants to use the skills he’s learned working in the arts to focus his attention on the details that make RACC great and what could make it even better.

“I want to keep expanding, broadening and changing,” Deis said.

Before arriving to Rome, Deis was the manager of the historic Rogues Harbor Inn located in Lansing, the heart of the Finger Lakes. Through stories he’s heard from locals, Deis learned that the tunnel that runs underneath the building had been part of the Underground Railroad. It was that rich historic culture that he grew up and worked around that sparked a desire for him to eventually explore the stories of Rome’s past.

As for Rogues Harbor, “We found maps” of the Underground Railroad “that had routes coming from Elmira and Binghamton,” through there “and up to Auburn,” he said. “The inn had actually been built by veteran Gen. Daniel Minier of the War of 1812. He got the property from his time of service.”

Rome has its obvious ties to days that go back even farther than the War of 1812. Deis delved into the history of central New York when applying for the executive director position at RACC. By understanding the area’s past, Deis said he could learn more about the community and its people, and explore the opportunities that he could make possible at the art center under his leadership.

After some experience in film, “I always wanted an office” job “but in a creative setting,” Deis said, adding that his background in videography, photography and drama could be the catalyst for some very new and different activities at RACC.

The center receives more than 5,000 visitors annually, and offers professional art galleries, children’s programming, and a concert series supported in part by the New York State Council on the Arts. Deis said he wants to see that continue and more.

Because they are growing in popularity, Deis hopes to host some “sip and paint” type events in the future, opening the center up to new creative opportunities. With the new pavilion, Deis said he is looking to host a dramatic series and theater productions, as well as outdoor musical concerts.

“I definitely want to do some theater and music there,” he said. “I have some playwriting and theatrical experience, and right now I’m in the works to do a Shakespeare production here with a local theater group, but it’s not finalized yet. There’s also opportunities to work with other groups like Rome Community Theater. I’d love to do films and stories (storytellers) here too.”

In the short time he’s been in Rome, Deis said he’s learned how to tap local resources that would be beneficial for RACC’s long-term growth. He’s hoping to use the talents and skills of artists and performers in the area to broaden the center’s horizons, making it a venue to exhibit an array of artistic genres.

“First I want to make sure we do what we’re already doing and do it well,” Deis said in relation to his plans for his first year on the job. “Then I want to see what else we can do and build on that.”

He said, “I want to reach out to places like Fort Rickey (Discovery Zoo) and Fort Stanwix to see if we can host some science exhibits or mobile animal discovery presentations here, or other rotating and visiting exhibits. Then we can expand out — attracting visitors first from throughout Oneida County and then the Mohawk Valley and throughout central New York.”

After seeing it as a community with an already rich artistic culture — with theaters and a variety of historic venues — Rome is now a place where Deis said he and his wife hope to start a family and leave a legacy as well.

“I hope to have a long tenure here at Rome Art & Community Center, and right now my victories will be defined by inches and not by miles.”