Philanthropist Janet Carrus embraces Hurleyville

By Amanda Loviza

HURLEYVILLE — Hurleyville Arts Centre Executive Director Janet Carrus believes in reinvention. She has reinvented herself numerous times throughout her life. This time, she is reinventing herself as part of the fabric of Hurleyville, and she hopes Hurleyville will embrace her and her latest artful venture.

Janet Carrus, executive director of the Hurleyville Arts Centre, hopes to make arts and culture accessible to everyone in Hurleyville.

Mrs. Carrus’ journey into the arts began with the death of her late husband, Gerry. She was in her early 60s, and a friend convinced her to try dance lessons for the first time.

“It actually transformed me,” Mrs. Carrus said. “It was a personal challenge to accomplish how to dance.”

She hadn’t known a rumba from bachata, but before she knew it she was dancing competitively. Dance allowed her to transcend any self-consciousness about her body or age, and she found a new

she wanted to be part of it. The arts seemed like the obvious missing piece of the puzzle, so she dreamed up the Hurleyville Arts Centre.

H.A.C. is not about coming into a new town and taking over or telling longtime locals what to do, Mrs. Carrus said. The arts center is about “community and inclusion.” She wanted to create a space in which the community could gather to watch a film, dance, talk politics or learn about environmental issues. Above all, she wants it to be open to everyone, whether senior citizen, child or person with a disability. One of her many past projects, a film called “Musical Chairs,” is about wheelchair dancing. In Mrs. Carrus’ mind, everyone has their own wheelchair—whether a physical disability, financial constraint or emotional struggle. She believes the arts remove limitations, and access to the arts is important for any community.

Coming up on the one-year anniversary of the arts center opening, Mrs. Carrus would like to see more local residents get involved in H.A.C. and give suggestions for programs. She has brought in environmental panels, dancers of all kinds and a variety of films, but she is determined to see the arts center grow. She’s in it for the long haul—after commuting part-time from her apartment in Manhattan for the last year, she has had a house built on Main Street. Living in the city has been “like having a party but not being there,” she said, so she made the decision to be totally invested in Hurleyville.

“It was a conscious choice to become a part of a community as I get older,” Mrs. Carrus said.

H.A.C. has “an amazing little team” of employees dedicated to bringing positive new things to Hurleyville, Mrs. Carrus said, and she loves having the connections between H.A.C., Gallery 222 and the Hurleyville Maker’s Lab on Main Street. Change comes from the grassroots, Mrs. Carrus said, and she hopes the grassroots in Hurleyville will spread art, innovation, environmental awareness and acceptance.

“We have to change attitudes,” Mrs. Carrus said.

She wants Hurleyville, and the world, to see people as people, and build personal connections without getting hung up on differences. Mrs. Carrus grew up the oldest of eight children in a middle class family and raised her children as a single mother, and she considers herself well-versed in struggle. Now she is in a position to do positive things, and she hopes her work with the arts center has a ripple effect with the community around her.

“I’d like to go out leaving an impression that I wasn’t just passing through,” Mrs. Carrus said. “I would like to have made a difference.”