Simply Creating Creative Outlets

Creating a space for youth performance is proving to be a simple task for one local organization.

Simply Create: Community Center for Creativity and Wellness, or Simply Create, has been holding a monthly Open Mic Night for Youth since its inception in 2010.

The center was previously located at 238 Main St. and served as a “space for youth, and adults, to express themselves” creatively, Keri Zurlini, founder of Simply Create, said.

After the center’s space closed in November  2011, the Open Mic Night for Youth was moved to Cafeteria and remains there despite a recent change in ownership, Zurlini said.

“We want Cafeteria to not just be a business, but an integrated part of the New Paltz Community,” Tanner Townsend, the new co-owner of Cafeteria, said. “Working with organizations like Simply Create gives us an amazing opportunity to stay in touch with the community and utilize our space for the benefit of everyone.”

Following the closure of the Main Street space, the open mic, held on the last Friday of each month, is currently the only program Simply Create puts on, Zurlini said.

“The community response has been pretty overwhelming for the open mic, so we wanted to make sure we still held it for them,” she said.

Robert Leitner, a local musician and Open Mic Night for Youth’s host, said most of the acts are musical, but that he encourages all types of performance art. Leitner has hosted the event since its beginnings and said he has seen it grow in “leaps and bounds,” as last month’s performance of 15 to 20 young participants was almost a “standing room only.”

“It was a real kick to see [audience members] faces light up as these very brave children take to the stage,” Leitner said. “This is an outlet for everybody.”

Performers are typically elementary and middle school students, Zurlini said, but high school and SUNY students have also participated, giving the event’s performers an age range of “4 to 24.” Zurlini and Leitner also said adult accompaniment by family members is welcome.

Leitner, a musician since childhood, said he has seen a positive response from the youth who participate.

“The kids have taken to it so beautifully,” Leitner said. “It’s a safe place for them because they’re surrounded by community.”

Zurlini, a full-time elementary school teacher, said she would be willing to team up with someone in the future to get the center to “actually function again” in a physical space, but for now the Open Mic Night for Youth is Simply Create’s main focus.

“The response is so strong from the community,” Zurlini said. “So that will remain whether or not we have another space.”

Updates about the Open Mic Night For Youth are posted on Simply Create’s Facebook page.