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[See more Community: "The Rural We" articles]

The Rural We: Liana Toscanini

Liana Toscanini is the Development and Marketing Director at Community Access to the Arts (CATA), the organization she has been involved with for 13 years out of its 22-year history, five as a board member and seven on staff. CATA’s long-term success, Liana believes, is due to the generous spirit of the region.

I am originally from New York City and spent my formative years in Westchester. I came to the Berkshires in 1996, to my second home in Sandisfield. Within 11 months, it was my permanent residence because I just hated leaving. Sunday nights became Monday mornings and Friday evenings become Thursday evenings. When I made the permanent move here, I was a telecommuter,  which was very new at the time. I ran a company’s website from my home in Sandisfield on dial-up internet! It was also the beginning of e-commerce, so I was conducting a lot of business from my home. I continued some work in the city, but going back and forth was getting pretty old, so I stopped after 9/11.

In 2003, I opened a retail store, a linen and gift shop, which I ran for about five years. I was also serving on the board of directors for CATA at the time, and right around when I was closing my store a position opened up on staff. It’s not easy to find full-time work here; I am very grateful that this small community arts organization has grown to allow me and a few others work. That’s all because of Berkshire County’s generosity. Eighty percent of CATA’s funding comes from individuals.

Selling CATA wares at the Berkshire Botanical Garden’s Harvest Festival.

CATA’s mission is to nurture and celebrate the creativity of people with disabilities through the arts. We offer arts programs like Shakespeare, tap dancing, creative writing and yoga. I think that’s what makes us unique — our breadth of art, because some non-profits for people with disabilities may only offer performance art or strictly visual art. Another important aspect of our mission is to make the public aware of the artists’ work and showcase talent that may go unnoticed. We have showcases and exhibits, which is a great way for people to learn about the mission, which is really about inclusion.

I do the marketing and fundraising at CATA. Marketing skills I came with, but fundraising is a skill acquired from years of volunteering. I have worked on restoring the Sandisfield Arts Center and Historical Society, and am one of the founders of the Sandisfield Times. I have always believed that communication within a community is helpful and makes the neighborhood a better place.

I imagine Berkshire County has the most non-profits in the entire state and that’s because the quality of life here is so special. We have the beauty of the rural landscape combined with all kinds of culture, nice people and proximity to bigger cities. That engenders its own circular phenomenon. People are so happy to be here they want to give back.

A few years ago I moved to New Marlborough and I think just driving around the backroads is one of the most beautiful things you can do. I also love walking around my neighborhood by Konkapot River and enjoying mountain views and farmland. I actually saw a bald eagle and a mountain lion in the same week. If you want to know the reason why I am still living here, that’s one of them.

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Posted by Rachel Louchen on 02/02/15 at 01:58 PM • Permalink