Weaving Art & Community through the Wassaic Project
Imagine if Brooklyn and Coachella had an artistic brainchild. That’s The Wassaic Project in a nutshell. Nowadays, The Wassaic Project, an artistic community just a short drive north of Pawling, is firmly ensconced within the Hudson Valley community. When it began in 2008, however, it was nothing more than a barebones nonprofit startup with a longshot at lasting success. Nine years ago, Eve Biddle, Bowie Zunino, and Elan Bogarin were artists with a dream of preserving the old Maxon Mills Company site that was renovated in 2005 after a close call with the demolition ball. To achieve their goal, they slowly turned the space into a home for emerging artists to practice their craft. They added Jeff Barnett-Winsby as their fourth co-director and introduced a Summer Festival to showcase upcoming talent to the community. “It was really fun, we got great feedback, and the turnout was amazing. We saw a lot of potential,” Biddle recalls of the first festival in 2008. Luckily, she and her fellow founders trusted their instincts and continued to pursue the project, inviting a global selection of artists and curating a one-of-a-kind summer showstopper each year. They expanded in stages and were running all of their current core programs by 2010. Today, The Wassaic Project boasts year-round artist residencies and educational programming, both on-site and in the community. It also hosts a smattering of signature events, including Open Studios, a Sandwich Summit for sandwich enthusiasts, the Summer Festival, visiting artist lectures, and a Haunted Mill and Monster Ball for Halloween. A Global Reach . . . At the center of it all is art, which is why the project draws talented artists from across the planet to the Hudson Valley. “We take nine artists at a time,” Biddle explains, noting that the site sees about sixty artist residents over the course of a year. Artists of all mediums, from painting and sculpture to writing, dancing, music, and video art, can submit applications or attend an open call to request a spot in the residency program. At the end of each month, the project hosts Open Studios to encourage community members to experience the art as it builds and develops. Biddle says The Open Studios “are the perfect opportunity to see what the artists are working on.” In addition to attending the studio showcases, locals can also participate in one of the Wassaic Project’s unique educational offerings. The Art Nest, located on-site, is the perfect spot for kids of all ages to get crafty and connect with the art that the residents produce. Interested children can also participate in one of the camp’s weeklong summer programs designed to help youths learn about and engage with the arts. . . . With Local Impact The Wassaic Project’s educational offerings extend into the community as well. Each quarter, Biddle and co-directors choose a resident who is both a skilled artist and teacher to participate in the “Wassaic x Webutuck” collaboration. The selected education fellow leads art lessons for students at Webutuck Central School District and immerses them into creative, thought-provoking projects. Thus far, the program has been a hit, earning recognition from surrounding districts as well. “Dover High School and Stissing Mountain High School have invited our education program into their schools. It’s been a great affirmation that the programs are appreciated by the [school] system and working,” Biddle enthuses. Summer Festival 2017 Currently, the multi-faceted organization is in the final planning stages for its annual Summer Festival on August 12. Technically, the arts fest begins in the evening on Friday, August 11, with a spotlight on dance, and then continues throughout the day and into the night on Saturday. Along with a number of dance performances, attendees can also expect art showings, special movie screenings, and music performances. While the majority of the schedules is set, the film screenings will remain up in the air until the last minute as the team works to lock in the best movies possible. “We screened Diary of a Teenage Girl before it came out,” Biddle reveals. “We’re looking forward to really amazing films, but we don’t know what they’re going to be yet.” While on-screen entertainment may not be confirmed, musical talent is ready to go. Music co-directors Scott Anderson and Tim Love Lee curated a set list of three unique, memorable performances for local listening pleasure. “We want things to be fresh, new, and emerging, but also to have a tremendous amount of quality,” Anderson notes. “People really trust us even though they don’t know what’s happening. They could find their next favorite band that they’ve never heard of before.” The line-up is an eclectic medley with something for everyone. The first, Upstate Rubdown, is a Hudson Valley band that features female voices singing rootsy Americana melodies. Act number two, Madaila, is “a psychedelic pop band with a dancefloor sensibility and the ability to improvise,” Anderson explains. To wrap up the evening, the audience will welcome Midnight Magic, a Brooklyn-based band with an indie disco sound that is bound to get everyone grooving. Biddle and co-directors expect an estimated 1000 attendees or more over the course of the two days. It is a notable number for a small-scale artsy endeavor. Yet through hard work and a devotion to the arts, the Wassaic Project continues to strengthen and expand its presence as a hub for creativity both within the community and throughout the world. “We’re finding the best and bringing them to Wassaic,” says Biddle. What more can you ask for? Visit The Wassaic Project at 19 Furnace Bank Road in Wassaic on Fridays 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., Saturdays 12:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., or Sundays 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 pm. Learn more about the project and its programs at www.wassaicproject.org. Attend the Summer Festival on August 11 – 12.