“Sometimes I think, ‘we’re kind of everybody’s best kept little secret’,” said Christine Crawfis, executive director of Unison Arts Center in New Paltz. But last Saturday, March 15, the gallery at Unison was filled with dozens of people who are well aware of the rich and varied arts programs at Unison: the occasion was a “Friends Celebration” for the organization’s volunteers, donors, members and board members.
“This is a party to thank you,” Crawfis told those assembled, “because without you, Unison would not be here. And I think it’s very important for a community to have an arts center in its midst. We’ve been here for 37-plus years and hopefully with your continued support we will continue to be here.”
Unison offers an eclectic array of arts programming, ranging from live musical performances — April concerts will include banjo legend Tony Trischka and the Jen Chapin Trio (Harry Chapin’s daughter) — to staged readings by the resident Mohonk Mountain Stage Company (founded by Crawfis), visual arts exhibits in the gallery and sculpture garden, life-drawing sessions and photography workshops, tai chi and qi gong classes, Friday dances with live music and a dance lesson, special events like the barn sale on Memorial Day weekend and the popular Sunday Salon series that presents an intimate live performance and conversation with the performer.
But like other nonprofit arts organizations, Unison relies on support from a variety of sources in order to offer all of these programs. Revenue from ticket sales to live events covers less than 60 percent of the operating costs. Small grants from the New York State Council on the Arts help with funding, but Unison really depends on support from the community, which comes in the form of annual memberships, sponsorships by local businesses (called “arts partners,”), donors and volunteers, who do everything from working the box office to selling artists’ CDs to serving as ushers (which offers the excellent perk of free admission to a live performance).
The afternoon included food and wine and concluded with stellar performances by SUNY New Paltz students from Alpha Psi Omega, the college’s chapter of the National Theatre Honor Society. The group’s president, Adam Harrison, told the audience that it was intimate settings like that at Unison that gave an aspiring theater artist a way to connect with their community. “In attempting a career in theater, which is very daunting, it’s not enough to just enjoy doing it,” he said. “There has to be something at the base of your experience with theater. Unison is that kind of place. As theater artists we study the art of being a human being, and for the rest of your career, you’ll remember those intimate settings and that sense of community and try to re-create that.”
For more information, visit www.unisonarts.org.