North Country choreographer steps onto new stage
By Gwendolyn Craig
Tiffany Rea-Fisher is used to taking center stage as a dancer, choreographer and artistic director. On Feb. 1 she will be in a new spotlight as the Adirondack Diversity Initiative’s director.
Rea-Fisher heads the Lake Placid School of Dance and is the executive artistic director of EMERGE125, a dance company that teaches students in Harlem and Lake Placid. She is the first woman of color to be the Lake Placid school’s director. The 41-year-old lives in Saranac Lake with her husband and 18-month-old daughter, and plans to juggle work between her dance company and ADI. She will be part-time at first, transitioning to full-time at ADI starting March 6. Rea-Fisher said she will alternate each week between Harlem and Saranac Lake.
Rea-Fisher replaces ADI’s first director, Nicole Hylton-Patterson, who left in October for a nonprofit position in New York City. ADI is a burgeoning program under the nonprofit Adirondack North Country Association and focuses on ways to make the approximately 6-million-acre Adirondack Park more welcoming and inclusive. Rea-Fisher said she’s up to the task.
“A lot of time artists don’t get the credit that we deserve, because a lot of the things organizations do, we have to do,” she said. She balances budgets, brainstorms ways to make “abstract concepts more tangible for people,” and communicates with people from all over the world, in her director roles. “These are things that they were looking for. I also love this place, and you can’t fight for something if you don’t love it first.”
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Elizabeth Cooper, executive director of ANCA, has temporarily served in the ADI director position. She thinks Rea-Fisher’s background is a huge asset to the program and will help her show why diversity, equity and inclusion are important.
“She’s very much going to be the face of ADI,” Cooper said. “I think very much through her dance she is used to being out in front. That is something that comes very naturally to her.”
The ADI search team included ANCA representatives: Cooper; ADI Associate Director Melanie Reding; Director of Finance and Operations Kim Manion. It also included four members of ADI’s “core team,” a group of advisors assisting with the program. They included Kelly Metzgar, executive director for Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance; Pete Nelson, co-founder of ADI and of Adirondack Wilderness Advocates; Rocci Aguirre, deputy director of the Adirondack Council; and Gerald Delaney, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board.
ANCA received about 20 applications for the job and conducted interviews into early January. Cooper said one of the applicants talked about the Adirondack Park as though it was a place people visited for the day and left at night. Rea-Fisher, Cooper said, already lives in the park and understands its uniqueness.
Aguirre said the hiring committee interviewed excellent candidates, some who were local and others from far outside of the park. “Tiffany just brought something exceptional— a solid background in Adirondack-related issues, practical knowledge, passion and a certain fearlessness that I think made her the right person for ADI at this time,” he said. “I think there’s a steel to her, a real strength, and a real warmth and openness. I think that’s powerful.”
Metzgar said Rea Fisher will be an excellent director based on her enthusiasm and experience. Delaney was also impressed “with her honesty around her work and her calm demeanor that she seems to approach it with.”
“I think she’s the right person,” he added.
Nelson said he can’t wait to start working with Rea-Fisher.
“Tiffany’s presence, passion and ideas lit up the room. Nicky brought ADI from hopeful beginnings to a central role in the Adirondacks. Everything about Tiffany says to me that she is the ideal person to lead ADI in fulfilling the promise of its potential.”— Pete Nelson, co-founder of ADI and of Adirondack Wilderness Advocates
Rea-Fisher has a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from SUNY Purchase. She was a principal dancer for Elisa Monte Dance for eight years, eventually becoming the company’s artistic director from 2016 to 2017. She was a guest lecturer at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, examining “the interplay between arts and advocacy” and “challenging students to use dance as a tool for expanding historical understanding and social change,” according to her LinkedIn page. She “participated in professional development programs with the Association of Performing Arts Professionals and National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program,” according to a news release.
She first came to the Adirondacks in 2003, she said, as an artist-in-residence. Every September the dance company would provide three-week residencies. Now, she is the one bringing dancers from New York City to the Adirondacks, championing its outdoor, historical and cultural offerings. She has been the director of the Lake Placid School of Dance at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts since 2018.
Martha Swan, founder and executive director of John Brown Lives!, is also a member of ADI’s core team. Last year, the organization awarded Rea-Fisher the Spirit of John Brown Freedom Award, which “honors women and men whose work invokes the passion and conviction of the 19th-century abolitionist and celebrates leaders and innovators in civil and human rights whose courage, creativity, and commitment are models for others to follow,” according to its website. Swan said Rea-Fisher was also one of the awardees for a grant program called “Creatives Rebuild New York,” funding full-time artists at organizations to help boost the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic. She is working with John Brown Lives! on a dance film she hopes will air this year at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.
“She is extraordinarily creative and effective,” Swan said. “She’s very clear, very communicative. I also feel very lucky, very fortunate for John Brown Lives! Because I think this will open and deepen opportunities to work with ADI.”
Future of ADI
Cooper also hopes Rea-Fisher will resume programming that ADI was attempting, such as bringing students in kindergarten through senior year of high school from New York City to the Adirondacks. She would also like to see ADI help local schools create diversity, equity and inclusion committees and develop better pipelines for people of color to get jobs as forest rangers and police officers in the park.
The New York State budget included $250,000 in 2019 under the environmental protection fund for ADI, and ANCA hired Hylton-Patterson in December of 2019. Last year’s state budget included $300,000 for ADI, and Cooper hopes to increase that to $400,000. She noted the training ADI provided to state and local law enforcement and to forest rangers last year, and hopes the additional $100,000 would help continue to pay for that.
“Funding from the state has really leveraged itself in really amazing ways,” Aguirre said. “It’s deeply gratifying to see those investments really paying off and giving life to something that I would have not thought possible seven to 10 years ago.”
Housing will also be an issue for her to work on, and Rea-Fisher understands the difficulty of that firsthand. For seven years, Rea-Fisher and husband Matthew Fisher searched for a home in the Adirondacks, relying on short-term rentals in the interim. It wasn’t until last March that they closed on a house in Saranac Lake.
The number of short-term rentals has astounded her, and made her wonder what impact that has had on schools, sports teams, scouting programs and other community activities.
“When everything is transient and transactional, what does that do to a community?” she said. “There are very strong neighborhoods, but that transitional, transient culture is creeping in. I never want the Adirondacks to be unaffordable for people that want to be here. It can’t just be a playground for the rich. The Adirondacks deserve more than that, and the people of the Adirondacks deserve more than that.”
That Rea-Fisher has roots in the park now is assuring to Cooper and others. Hylton-Patterson, Cooper said, struggled to find housing and moved several times.
“Me and my whole family are in for the long haul,” Rea-Fisher said. “You couldn’t get rid of us as visitors for 20 years, and now we’re homeowners. We’re not going anywhere.”
She looked back on the moment dance became a part of her life. She was a child watching MTV and overheard her mother whisper to her father, “she doesn’t have any rhythm, we have to get her into dance class.” Rea-Fisher laughed. Dance has snowballed from “pure joy,” into a powerful “synergy between my work and how I run my dance company and ADI,” she said. It’s a new curtain about to rise.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct that Kelly Metzgar, executive director for Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance, was on the hiring committee and not Kelly Chezum, ANCA’s board chair.
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