The beauty of the Shawangunk Ridge is the main reason that many artists have moved to the region, says Sevan Melikyan, director of Wired Gallery in High Falls. It’s not a coincidence, he adds, that so many artists are drawn to the same thing that inspired the 19th-century Hudson River School of painters and the beginnings of the first American art. “The beauty is inspiring. The style of art may be different today, but the lifestyle and spirit is still here.”
And yet the region is a rural one, and therefore spread out, says Michele Riddell, who runs the Unframed Artists Gallery in New Paltz. “There are so many hidden jewels in this area, but people often don’t even know about all the different places that have art in their own towns.”
So the two gallerists got together to do something about that, and the result is the new Gunks Art Trail Map. It’s a colorful collaboration between the colleagues, with Riddell contributing the artwork and Melikyan doing the digital work. The map details all of the places in the Shawangunk region where art can be found, covering the communities of New Paltz, High Falls, Stone Ridge, Rosendale, Accord, Kerhonkson, Gardiner and Highland, with Ellenville and Cragsmoor soon to be added.
And it’s not just the traditional gallery and museum settings and artists’ studios that are included, but also those unexpected places where people can encounter art: restaurants, banks, libraries, lodgings, theaters, stores and other venues. Basically any individual or business that offers art for viewing in the Gunks region can be included.
That’s because it’s all about being inclusive, says Melikyan, thinking cooperation rather than competition. In fact, he says, “If there’s one message we’d like to get out, it’s that we want people to tell us what we left out. If anyone is not here, that’s only because we just aren’t aware of them.”
All it takes to remedy that is for “any place that shows art” to send an e-mail to Melikyan at firstname.lastname@example.org with name, website info and the nearest community to one’s location.
The map is available in a printed format that will be updated annually. The interactive online version will be updated “constantly,” says Melikyan. The online version at www.gunksarttrail.com also includes website links to all listed venues and will give access to a mobile version. There is an initial circulation of 10,000 of the printed maps, distributed by Ulster County Tourism, the project’s principal sponsor. “They really gave us the confidence to do this,” says Melikyan. “They believed in us all the way.” The map is also sponsored by Mohonk Mountain House and funded by advertisers.
The Gunks Art Trail Map has been a year and a half in the making, Riddell says; “a real labor of love.” The two gallery directors didn’t know each other before deciding to collaborate on this project, but both feel very strongly about connecting with their community. They have very different personalities, they both say, but as often happens in such cases, it’s turned out to be complementary differences and the map appears to show the strengths of both its creators.
The pair also credit Doug Adams for financial support, Christena Carp for her initial design, Amy and Jonathan Cohen for the permanent art directory, Cliff Rockmuller for sharing his knowledge of rail trails, Lisa Gutkin and David Santner for helping with distribution, Rachel Toy for ensuring content accuracy, Andra Maguran and Jill Olesker for prospecting supporters and Rick Remsnyder at Ulster County Tourism.
The New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce sponsored a ribbon-cutting event on Saturday, June 7 to celebrate the release of the map, with Town Supervisor Susan Zimet and Councilman Dan Torres on hand at Riddell’s Unframed Artists Gallery on Huguenot Street. All involved say that the map will not only benefit the identity of the Gunks as a place for art but will assist tourism in the region, as well, giving visitors a complete picture of what they can find when they visit the Gunks and where they can stay and spend their tourist dollars.
Melikyan says the next thing they’re looking into is the possibility of installing a large version of the map in the grassy area across from the Groovy Blueberry in New Paltz — and maybe other locations — so that visitors can have that visual right in front of them as they stroll around the town.