By Alison Rooney
2014 was celebratory and innovative for many of Philipstown’s major arts institutions. Some of the tried and true traditions of the area remained the same, with no complaints about that — the roster of top-flight classical music performed gratis at the Chapel Restoration in spring, summer and fall year in, year out being a prime example. But others broke from their patterns of annual tours, bazaars, exhibitions, performances, to test out novel ideas, or simply expand their audiences. And it wasn’t only the arts institutions stretching boundaries. As always, Philipstown’s abundant creativity was generated by individuals alongside collective groups. Here are few things that stood out.
The Putnam History Museum broke with the traditions of their usual historic exhibitions to take a look instead at “Modern Residential Architecture in the Hudson Highlands.” Seizing this area’s stronghold as the setting — and siting — for contemporary design, this largely photographic exhibit, which ran for seven months, highlighted the 20th century. Asked why there are so many of these homes here, exhibit co-curator Lisa Weilbacker explained: “For years, since the 19th century, people have been drawn to the natural beauty of the area and started building, in particular, weekend homes, situated in extraordinary surroundings, and those surroundings became a significant part of the whole experience of these homes. They’re mostly glass and geometric shapes, inviting nature in and looking out to nature. The architects and owners became conscious of views, the surrounds, how each house was situated. (“Putnam History Museum Exhibits Modern Residential Architecture”)
- Garrison Art Center didn’t mind disclosing that they were turning 50 years old. Rather, they embraced it with a year-long party, culminating in a big bash on their home turf, riverside, and emphatically not sedate. “Ultimately, for our 50th we decided to go back to having a big shindig, but we also decided that a sit-down dinner was not the thing, and that a multimedia art performance was more our style,” said Garrison Art Center Director Carinda Swann, meaning it. Later on in the year, the center produced a Steamroller Printing Festival, with visitor-created block prints turned into works of art via a giant steamroller turned press for the day donated by Polhemus Construction. There was a giant turnout with the full age demographics of the community represented. (“Garrison Art Center Turns Big 5-0”)
Seeking a union between its two connected halves, nature and design, Manitoga joined the two ever more together through performance, inviting visual, dance and musical artists to come and take inspiration from its spectacular setting, and to create works in their own idiom inspired by place. These works were then performed, outdoors, with nature’s elements an added participant. The first of these, Melissa McGill’s sound installation, Palmas, involved installing speakers around the site’s quarry pond, which played recordings of flamenco clapping sounds. “You may be standing in one spot along the trail and hear it in the woods near the waterfall and then suddenly you hear it across the pond … it activates the whole space … The sounds are transformed and absorbed by the elements of the landscape. At Manitoga, house and studio and landscape are all in extraordinary conversation,” described McGill. Musician Ben Neill followed, in August, with a work composed for a brass quintet, trumpeters emerging from the woods to converge around the pond. The series continues next year. (“Manitoga’s Creative Experimentation Legacy Inspires Artist Residencies” and “Trumpeters Emerge From the Woods in Ben Neill’s New Composition, Manitoga”)
A changing of the artistic guard occurred at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Company, when young, NYC-hot director Davis McCallum assumed the top job, taking over from HVSF founder Terry O’Brien. While McCallum mainly stood on the sidelines, or, more accurately, sat back under the tent and studied the shows in his first few months on the job, he began to fine-tune things and set the stage for putting his own stamp on both the job and the company. The just-concluded “off-season” offering of All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 is a harbinger of things to come: a new education director; the formalizing of the apprentice program into the newly named HVSF Conservatory Company; a new classical directing fellowship, created jointly with HVSF, the Drama League and the Old Globe Theater; and, once again — come summer — the new season, this time with four alternating productions, two by that Shakespeare fellow (A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Winter’s Tale) and two by others: Mary Zimmerman’s The Arabian Nights and a solo show, An Iliad, performed by someone not so new to HVSF’s stage: Kurt Rhoads, back for his 18th season. (“Davis McCallum Brings New Sensitivity to HVSF”)
- As for creativity generated by individuals, the arts are threaded through our daily lives, and our daily lives serve as art’s inspiration. Embodying these sentiments, a workshop took place late last winter at the Cold Spring Friendship Center for seniors. “Sometimes you think you don’t remember things, but then you take part in an activity, maybe art or cooking, and it catches you off guard — the memory comes.” So spoke Kathy Curto at a gathering of a writing and bookbinding workshop for seniors. Working with artist Christina DiMarco, Curto guided the group through a six-class session that tapped into memories and translated them into written pieces. Never coddling her “students,” Curto, a Cold Spring resident who is a professor of creative writing at Montclair State, instead used discussion and prompts to help them turn their thoughts into stories. These stories were then formalized as such by turning them into actual bound books with a cover designed by each other. “At some point in a story that’s too ideal, we notice it and search for reality. I happen to believe great pieces of writing bring both the tough and the tender on the page,” Curto said to the class, whose efforts produced work that embodied that belief. (“Memories Tapped, Talents Revealed in Writing, Bookbinding Workshop for Seniors”)
Art-scene-wise, 2014 will be remembered as yet another notch in the ever-trending upward chart of exhibitions, performances, venues and community involvement in that small city. Without singling out any one entity, together the trio of live music establishments, the Towne Crier, Quinn’s and Dogwood, each reinventing itself and reopening over the course of the last two years, have given the art galleries a run for their money in being labeled as Beacon’s signature “known for” art form.
Bolstered by the ever-expanding Beacon Music Factory and the many music festivals its founder, Stephen Clair, has helped generate, music and music-makers are proving a draw for both locals and visitors. With the linchpin of Second Saturday firmly in place, music can also be heard on, say the third Tuesday or the fourth Monday — pretty much, as the song goes, “Eight Days a Week.” With so many music aficionados to tap into, related businesses have followed suit, from a store full of LPs (“Beacon Sound Shack Insists ‘Vinyl Is Final’”) to a bona fide luthier (“Occupation: Luthier”). Have an oud in need of repair, for example? No problem — just turn down Chestnut from Main.
- All of these sweet sounds are bittersweet when considering the passing of the man whose music and way more than that were and always will be synonymous with the city of Beacon and the Hudson Highlands beyond: Pete Seeger, May 3, 1919 – Jan. 27, 2014 (“Pete Seeger’s Musical Legacy”).
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