Ever find yourself wondering what role the visual arts can play in our everyday lives, or forgetting what this area may have been like 30 years back before we all entered into our prideful renaissance of recent years? Maybe even questioning whether we are actually experiencing any sort of valleywide cultural upswing?
The annual "10 x 10 x 10" art event that has been occurring summers in Ellenville in recent years got up and running again a couple of weeks ago - and as usual, it's a vibrant mix of the stunning and the pedestrian, the experimental and the staid that makes a day trip to this corner of Ulster County down the 209 corridor a must-remember for the coming months. Moreover, it has actually started to achieve some renaissance-like effects in the town and village itself, as well as surrounding communities, and seems on the verge of making Ellenville into something of a regional arts phenomenon.
The idea at hand started quite simply: Ellenville, formerly center for a thriving summer boardinghouse and resort industry, fell on hard times. Horseshows in the Sun (HITS), now based in Saugerties, briefly brought the place economic respite. But when it moved away a few years back, local folk were left wondering what to do with the increasing numbers of empty storefronts around town - how to attract businesses without seeming desperate.
Turns out that, as happens around here, a lot of the more activist and involved folks ready to help out around town were artists, and artists who knew other artists. How about lending out storefronts, both vacant and for surviving businesses, to a number of artists from the community and elsewhere, by invitation, to use their creativity in the community's aid?
The village came up with some funds to help the efforts, both via supply monies and, more importantly, a budget for promotion. And the surrounding arts community started responding, with some big names in the region - Grace Knowlton and Eeo Stubblefield among them - making Ellenville a new stop on at least the cutting-edge, avant-garde arts circuit.
Now, several years into the experiment, the artists at play in town this summer (lasting into October) include the likes of John Battaglino of Warwick, Jean Bayrak of Pearl River, Ada Pilar Cruz of Peekskill, Judy Hoyt of New Paltz, Lorrie Fredette of Saugerties, Kirsten Kucer of Beacon, Leonie Lacouette of Gardiner, Keith Long of Manhattan, Ryan Sullivan of Poughkeepsie and Wayne Montecalvo, Laura Moriarty and Sean Sullivan of Rosendale, all invited in and curated by the community's own, ceramist Judy Sigunick. The resulting windows are a mix of mysterious wax shapes and archaeological wonders, folktales come to life and mixed-media explorations - plus enough local, non-juried work augmenting the official ten around town to make the whole feel quite gala.
"The artists represent their Hudson Valley communities, the value of diversity, a collaborative effort amongst themselves, as well as our business owners and civic leaders," says Sigunick of this third annual event. "In the absence of immediate commercial goals, this storefront project aims toward a true partnership with local Greater Ellenville area businesses and property owners to bolster the growth of the community. This summer's selection includes established painters, sculptors, printmakers, new media and technology, installation art and more. For the artists, we offer opportunities for them to make art that will enrich and enliven the widening, expanding regional community of the Greater Hudson Valley area."
The less-formal (or experimental) "Art in the Windows of Ellenville" project has showcased two- and three-dimensional original artwork of local Ellenville area emerging and professional artists under the direction of Dennis Warner, former head of the English department at Ellenville Senior High School and WELV 107.9 FM radio deejay.
Given the town's popular Saturday morning farmers' market, its growing numbers of exotic eateries and a host of other events popping up around the Library with regularity, it's ripe for a good summer visit - which should also include journeying a few further miles down 209 to Wurtsboro and that community's own up-and-coming gallery, Red Eft, whose collection of Ulster County artists keeps getting better, and is also helping spur that old resort community back to life. Just head down 209 and, when in Ellenville, park to walk around. It's a joyful trip, as well as a reminder of just what the arts can still do for all of us.