I met Maureen while I was in Saratoga producing a sustainable fashion event in 2015. She took an interest in me and invited me out for drinks to talk about potential projects we could work on together. I will never forget how passionate she was about collaboration and the need for creatives to get proper compensation. We ended up working on a series of events together under the Saratoga Arts Fest summer program over the course of 3 years. Also at around that time she helped facilitate my connection with ACE! as the freelance creative representative in what was a group of who’s who of institutional arts in the Capital Region. This was back when it was a small gathering of folks meeting in a conference room at the Community Foundation of the Greater Capital Region. Since then, we have worked together on scores of events across the 8 counties of the Capital Region and helped create a connected community of talented creatives that I am proud to be a part of. While its bitter sweet to see Maureen move on to her next episode, I know that she will always be a quick text away and am excited to walk in her footsteps, continuing what we both believe is an important mission for all creative individuals and cultural and arts institutions in our region – the raising up of creative voices and providing opportunity for recognition, compensation and the strengthening of our most valuable regional asset, our creative class.
You came into this affiliation with a strong experiential background, can you share a little bit about your previous professional gigs?
Sure! I feel really lucky to have had a career in the entertainment industry. I went to film school at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, and worked at film companies like PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, where we released a slew of great indies like Four Weddings and a Funeral and The Usual Suspects. Then I fell in love with dotcom, and ended up at Nickelodeon during the wild, early days of the internet. It was super fun.
Tell us a little about the genesis of ACE! and how and when you came to be involved.
Almost ten years ago, the Community Foundation of the Greater Capital Region, along with key players like the Center for Economic Growth (CEG) and others, commissioned a report that quantified the “creative economy” of the 8-county Capital Region. The results were amazing! This sector — which had never been measured or talked about before — was suddenly seen as an economic driver, generating over a billion dollars in revenue, and employing tens of thousands of people. Such a surprise for everyone involved.
A group of people — Ellen Sax of MVP Health Care, Robert Altman of WMHT, Tom Lloyd of Adirondack Studios, Jeff Mirel of The Rosenblum Companies, Philip Morris of Proctors and MANY, MANY others — started convening, trying to figure out how to make the creative economy known and recognized in economic and workforce development circles. We gathered a bit of money together to start the project, and see whether we could get creatives businesses and organizations from all eight counties to work together in developing ourselves as a business sector. And, voila! ACE! was born.
You have been a passionate and dedicated leader to the organization, what particularly called you to the mission of ACE! and why do you feel that is important for our region?
There are SO MANY talented people up here — as talented as any I met in NY and LA — and yet, there just aren’t enough jobs and opportunities for our artists and creatives. People here — and small orgs and businesses — have drive, skill and passion to spare, and yet, they’re barely getting by. I think that’s what connected all of us who have worked with ACE! over the years. We wanted recognition for what’s here, and who’s here. We’re SO DAMN AWESOME. So, we just started throwing events, to celebrate all of the amazing venues, locations, and people we’ve got in this region.
Corey, I remember when you and I drove down to Brooklyn to go to a Freelancers Union networking event about 8 years ago. It was so cool to see a bunch of self-employed people sharing their knowledge and completely supporting each other’s efforts. You and I thought, “Damn, we could do that.” So, we did! We busted our asses for years, with dozens and dozens of events, and people were so supportive of our efforts. People were — are — really hungry to connect and learn and collaborate.
There have been many highlights over the last several years. Can you share what you feel or some of the most important accomplishments of ACE?
I guess the biggest accomplishment is that the term “creative economy” is officially recognized and respected throughout the region. That’s really what we set out to do — to make it easier for everyone to be seen as integral to the economy of the region. Creatives aren’t just eye candy. We’re MONEY. We give life to our cities and towns. And we deserve respect.
Can you tell us about your latest decision to move on and what your current professional goals are?
Two years ago, I moved down to Catskill, a town I fell in love with while planning an ACE event six years ago. My life is centered down here now, and it’s too far south to cover the whole region. Plus, after these two years of COVID, I was ready for a change. I’m so damn glad that you (Corey) are here to take it over. We hatched this thing together, and it’s time for you to invent the next chapter. I’m so excited to see where it goes.
Is there anything specific you would like to share that you feel is important for our audience to consider?
The creative economy is a powerful change agent, but not all of the changes are good. Gentrification and skyrocketing rents are plaguing many of our cities and towns. It worries me, when creatives can no longer afford to live in the places they helped to flourish. I hope we can figure out ways to address this together, and if you have ideas, I’m all ears.
Maureen Sager is now the Director of Marketing and Communications at SUNY Columbia-Greene Community College and has a real estate side hustle based in Catskill, NY.
Editors Note: Ellen Sax was inaccurately identified as working for CDPHP. Ellen is actually employed by MVP Health Care. We apologize for the confusion.