Where the arts continue to bloom

Their names alone – Helen Hayes, Kurt Weill, Burgess Meredith and Aaron Copland – call to mind an earlier time.

But together, these notables were instrumental in the development of a Hudson Valley arts organization that continues to be a vibrant force today.

The actors and composers, along with countless fellow artists, writers and musicians, helped form The Rockland Foundation, now known as the Rockland Center for the Arts (RoCA).

And this month, RoCA is marking a milestone when the West Nyack-based organization hosts its 70th anniversary Legacy Gala.

This “Bloomsbury group along the Hudson,” as the founders were known, also included singer Lotte Lenya, architect-potter Henry Varnum Poor, glass artist Maurice Heaton, playwright Maxwell Anderson, actress Paulette Goddard and director Guthrie McClintic. The dedicated men and women literally helped scrub, paint and rebuild what became the original headquarters on Broadway in Nyack, where the organization would begin to offer programs that touched on painting, drawing, music, ceramics, weaving, dancing and writing. In 1949, the expanding organization took advantage of Mary Ann Emerson’s donating her 10-acre property on Greenbush Road in West Nyack, moving there into headquarters it retains today.

The campus is the place not only to take a watercolor class or attend an opening reception but also to participate in world-class offerings.

It’s impossible to summarize seven decades in a few words. Over time, though, RoCA has featured art and artists from near and far.

There has been everything from Mozart operas to jazz, theatrical works starring Hayes and Julie Harris to Chinese dance. Its exhibitions have showcased work by Alexander Calder, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Pousette-Dart, Jasper Johns, Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler, with photography on display from icons such as William Wegman and Gordon Parks. Literary programs and dramatic readings have featured Toni Morrison, William Hurt, Bill Murray and Ellen Burstyn. And that’s just for starters.

This month, RoCA proudly looks back, with its gala honorees including Evelyn and Richard Pousette-Dart, Founders Medal; Cristina Biaggi, Pioneer in the Arts Award; Norman Galinsky, Board Leadership Award; Julianne Ramos, Executive Leadership Award; and Marlene Kleiner, in memoriam, Executive Leadership Award.

In advance of the Legacy evening, RoCA’s acting director Daly Flanagan shared her thoughts with WAG.

With your organization’s rich and varied history, how did you determine whom to honor during this 70th anniversary gala?

“This year we are reflecting on five outstanding individuals who have impacted RoCA through innovation and leadership. All of this year’s honorees have significantly contributed to both RoCA and the wider artistic community in Rockland County. The honorees have been instrumental in providing opportunities for artists to create and present art. They all embody a standard of excellence that RoCA wants to celebrate in conjunction with our 70th anniversary.”

Where does RoCA fit in the cultural conversation of this region – and what do you feel are its biggest strengths?

“The Rockland Center for the Arts (RoCA) is a comprehensive multi-arts center dedicated to creating and understanding art through its School for the Arts, exhibitions, workshops, literary and performing events, Summer Arts Day Camp and outreach programs. RoCA attracts over 25,000 visitors and students annually from throughout the region. The contemporary art exhibition spaces are free to the public and include the Emerson Gallery, Catherine Konner Sculpture Park, Gallery One and Two, and two Media Project spaces. RoCA’s well-respected School for the Arts and intensive Summer Arts Day Camp annually enroll more than 1,800 people. RoCA’s Community Outreach Programs provide both on- and off-site studio art programs to a variety of underserved populations in the area. RoCA also administers the Rockland County Art in Public Places program that commissions and places public works of art.

“Our extensive facilities present a multitude of options for the individual seeking to experience art – six exhibition spaces including the 4-acre Catherine Konner Sculpture Park, three professionally equipped studios to develop artistic skills and a performing arts space.

“RoCA believes that everyone has the potential to express themselves through the arts. RoCA is committed to the process of experiencing, responding to, creating and exhibiting art. By providing a range of relevant, thought-provoking programs, RoCA engages the individual and the community through quality art experiences, while cultivating new audiences in meaningful ways. “RoCA’s vision is to:

  • present exhibitions, classes and performances that catalyze new ways of thinking about the arts.
  • promote broad forms of creative and cultural expressions to all ages and skill levels.
  • utilize the arts as an educational force, bringing unique perspectives and skills to the learning process that stimulate development in profound ways.
  • provide equitable access to the arts through outreach, programs for individuals with special needs, as well as scholarship/work exchange opportunities.
  • collaborate to further arts education for all and to increase the effectiveness and scope of our programming.

“One of RoCA’s biggest strengths is the creative community we work with, from our teachers and exhibiting contemporary artists to the talented students who work together to form a dynamic, inclusive and ever-broadening network of people who support each other through the arts.

“RoCA partners with several nonprofits and other arts organizations to present programs that best meet the needs of our community.”

How is the organization dealing with the economic realities of today, when funding for the arts is in peril?

Now more than ever, access to arts and culture is a necessity for every community. For many, art opens up a new world of possibilities where individuals can creatively express themselves and see their own ideas positively reflected in their art.

“RoCA is committed to providing everyone with meaningful experiences in the arts, regardless of income. We offer scholarships to those in economic need and provide outreach programs to individuals unable to visit RoCA. Our contemporary art exhibitions are always free of charge. In order to provide scholarships, free exhibitions and outreach programs, RoCA relies on contributed income.

“Increased corporate sponsors and arts patrons are very much in need in the lower Hudson Valley. Those who do fund the arts are generous and consistent, but local arts organizations are often in competition for the same funds.

“RoCA is constantly striving to diversify our revenue stream through a balance of fee-for-service programs, individual contributions, fundraising events and grants.”

RoCA’s 70th anniversary Legacy Gala will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. May 7 at The View on the Hudson in Piermont. All proceeds will benefit RoCA’s exhibitions and its outreach programs with local schools. For more, visit rocklandartcenter.org.

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