After years of declining enrollment and rather limited course offerings whilst wandering in the wilderness in search of a permanent headquarters, New Paltz’s 41-year-old not-for-profit consortium of teaching artists, the Arts Community, has finally found a home – and, one may hope, a new lease on life. That new home is One Epic Place, the shared community space located at 122 Main Street; and One Epic Place’s founders, Julie Robbins and Nicole Langlois, have just been named the new president and vice president, respectively, of a rejuvenated Arts Community Board of Directors. A greatly expanded class schedule is being planned for this fall, and to fund the organization’s relaunch, One Epic Place will be hosting an outdoor benefit concert in its parking lot this Friday evening, August 19 from 5 to 9 p.m.
If you’ve been knocking around this cauldron of creativity that is New Paltz for a long time, you may remember the level of enthusiasm that simmered around the Arts Community in its early years. Founded as the not-for-profit Artists Enterprises, Inc. in 1975 by the late Eileen Channer, then-assistant to the Dean of Fine and Performing Arts at SUNY-New Paltz, the Arts Community functioned as a central clearinghouse and publicity engine for dozens of local artists, working in many disciplines, who needed to teach regular classes in order to eke out a living. Their programs were mostly geared toward children and youth, taught after school or on weekends.
Steve and Carole Ford’s fondly remembered Arts Community Youth Theater was a popular program that ran until 1992. Other notable early teachers included many talented dancers, including Livia Vanaver, Deborah Vinton, Brenda Bufalino, Bonnie MacLeod and Susan Slotnick. But alongside their ballet, modern, jazz, tap and folkdance students, an Arts Community dance showcase would also include tumbling toddlers who were learning gymnastics from Jan Pileggi. Yoga, martial arts and fitness classes always found room to fit under the big Arts Community umbrella.
Most of the organization’s co-founders have passed on, retired or moved away; the last one still on the board is Peggy Paparone, who stepped down from the president’s chair after recruiting Robbins and Langlois, happy to know that the organization could be revitalized rather than dissolved. “Joanne [Still, outgoing vice president] and Peggy have been very helpful in our transition,” says Langlois. “They’re staying on as long as we need them… It feels like that old energy is coming back.” Another longtime board member, Pat Henneberger, is also staying on. The rest of the restructured board now includes Rachel Brown, Sara Street, Julian Baker, Diane Fokas, Johanna Thompson and Denise Summerford. And the influx of new blood has piqued the interest of some Arts Community old-timers: Susan Slotnick, for one, will be back this fall, says Robbins, to teach a “Creative Movement for Children” class.
The commitment to the founders’ concept that “art” can encompass many pursuits not habitually regarded as such remains strong. Classes already on the fall docket include courses in knitting and weaving, qi gong, meditation, voiceover acting, graphic novel creation and game design, along with the more traditional dance and music instruction. One Epic Place’s kitchen makes culinary arts and nutrition classes possible – Langlois’ specialty – and Robbins, a self-described “holistic business coach,” has ambitions of teaching “The Art of Business.”
There’s even a class planned for this fall called “Music and Healing for Women of Divorce.” Yes, the Arts Community’s target audience has expanded to include adult learners, which was actually part of the organization’s original vision statement. Both Robbins and Langlois are enthusiastic about the idea of future multigenerational offerings, noting, in Robbins’ words, a “lack of opportunities for seniors” in this community to stay physically active and intellectually engaged.
The increasing popularity of homeschooling also points to a potential untapped client base; Langlois, a homeschooler herself, is highly aware of the prohibitive cost of enrolling kids in many specialized extracurricular programs. Like the Arts Community’s founders decades ago, says Robbins, “We are definitely committed to affordable classes.” Also in the works, along with a revamped website, is the compilation of a database of venues throughout the Hudson Valley – not just in New Paltz – where working artists can offer classes.
It was Arts Community board member Julian Baker, who is also a One Epic Place member, who brought the two entities together, says Robbins, and the founder of New Paltz Rock is facilitating the concert this Friday. There will be an all-ages open mic from 5 to 6 p.m., followed by a performance from one of New Paltz Rock’s current young bands, Minor Disturbance. Two indie-rock bands from Brooklyn, August on Sunday and royGbiv, will perform at 7 and 8 p.m. respectively. According to Robbins, three members of royGbiv happened to be weekending in New Paltz and wandered into a One Epic Place Music Night because “the energy felt so good.” They ended up sitting in to jam, and then quickly agreed to participate in a fundraising concert.
Friday’s event will include food and drinks and a raffle. Admission is by voluntary contribution; but when it comes to keeping a venerable local institution like the Arts Community alive and kicking, giving generously would be most appropriate. “It’s important to make sure that people have access to the arts,” Robbins avers. “What is life without art?”
For more information about the revival of the Arts Community, upcoming classes and this Friday’s fundraising concert, visit www.facebook.com/theartscommunity. Artists interested in offering classes (and people interested in taking them) are encouraged to call (845) 232-0402, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or drop by One Epic between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.