Life After IBM: Perfecting the Science of Virtual Festivals 

Jim Christensen created Croton Arts Live, an online arts fair that defied the odds and the pandemic to draw more than 900 people.

Jim Christensen has been passionate about creativity from a very young age. Inspired by his fatherthe Croton-on-Hudson resident was developing his own photography in his own black & white wet dark lab by the time he was 10.    

In adulthood, his creativity took a different turn. Jim became a computer science researcher, working at IBM 35 years. His creative mind and spirit created prototypes for IBM every one to five years.   

Once retired from research in 2012, with extra time on his hands, Jim turned once again to his love of photography, becoming active in Croton Council on the Arts (CCoA), which he calls a “a loose group of different interests, with photographers the most active group.”  

He immersed himself in club activities, especially social aspects, such as meetings, shows, presentations, and teaching classes & workshops.   

That strong sense of community inspired him in 2014 to create the CCoA annual Fall Festival. Situated in Senasqua Park, the event along the banks of the Hudson River amplified the social appeal of art, bringing people together to ponder, to learn, to engage, and to share – artist to artist, artist to the public, friends, family – completing a virtuous circle. 

In 2019, CCoA had the largest Fall Festival ever, with 60 artist booths and 1,000 visitors.  Naturallyexpectations for 2020 were high, until they were laid low, for obvious reasons.  

It didn’t deter Jim, though. He was determined to recreate in cyberspace the unique community atmosphere of the live festival.  

The concept was a logical marriage of his computer and photography chops. He could see a pathway to create an online meeting place for people to socialize and network, appreciate the handiwork of skilled local artists, and listen to talented local musicians, all in the same virtual venue.  


This free virtual arts festival is sponsored by arts councils in Croton, Ossining and Peekskill.

Jim envisioned a new-fangled festival that was more than a store stocked with art, but rather a place to “bump” into friends during a shared experience. This was a completely new experience – not like Etsy where you just go into a site and shop. 

The people he approached to participate didn’t get it at firstSo hwent into pitchman mode and improvised a Youtube video to simulate what it would look like. Then everybody’s light bulb went on. Sold! 

Jim christened his brainchild Croton Arts Live, an online interactive festival that was held in late September.   

Working without a budget, Jim bore the brunt of the cost. The artists and performers pitched in to spread the word to friends and family. He only had three months to get it all done. Though he couldn’t realize the entire dream, he created a completely new experience that attracted an amazing 920 people. 

Up next from the fertile mind of Jim Christensen is “Handmade for the Holiday.” Running Nov. 21-Jan. 3, it is his further proof of concept in the virtual free festival model, this time adding a CV19-safe inperson option. He also has brought in partner councils, including Peekskill Arts Alliance and Ossining Arts Council 


Liz Peterson is a Westchester Artist/Photographer.

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