5 Questions: Florence Northcutt

Florence Northcutt
Florence Northcutt (Photo provided)

By Michael Turton

Florence Northcutt, who has volunteered at the Howland Cultural Center in Beacon for 33 years and is a longtime member of its board, will be honored on Wednesday, May 15, as part of a gala to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

What have been the main accomplishments at the center?
Two things. We’ve taken good care of the building [which was built in 1872], although there is more to do. It’s a gem; you could never grow tired of this building. We’ve also expanded the city’s cultural and artistic life. There are other places that show art or host music, but the Howland Center has everything. That’s why people call it “the jewel of Beacon.”

How does the Beacon cultural scene compare to 1986?
On a scale from 1 to 10? It’s at least a 25. When we started, Main Street was in bad shape; the buildings across the street were boarded up. After the library moved out of the center, the group that saved the building began exhibiting art and hosting a few concerts. It was on its way. Main Street has undergone such a metamorphosis since Ron and Ronnie Sauer restored the first buildings. I’d love to see more live theater here. I like dramas, although many people prefer musicals.

You had a career in education. Did that help with your work?
I was a speech therapist, but no matter what you do in education you have to be well-prepared, structured and creative. They say teaching is a combination of art and science, and the same is true of running the Howland Center. It’s important to be involved in the creation of programs here, to see what the community needs.

Howland Cultural Center
The Howland Cultural Center

Is there a program you’re especially proud of?
One dear to my heart is the marionette show we put on each Christmas. It’s a husband-and-wife team who studied with Jim Henson [the creator of the Muppets]. It’s wonderful to see a roomful of children totally immersed.

What’s the biggest challenge for the center?
We live a hand-to-mouth existence, which is why we don’t have a full-time executive director. We’re not subsidized by the city. We depend on grants, membership, donations, program revenues. I’d like to see the center become much more financially secure. But, we have a good board. We get things done.