The small hamlet of Wassaic, located in the town of Amenia in Dutchess County, is home to the Wassaic Project: a multidisciplinary artist-run center designed to foster collaborative work between musicians, dancers, visual artists and filmmakers within a community-based, site-specific experience. Founded in 2008, the Wassaic Project also includes a residency program and educational experiences that bring art into the schools. The Project holds its programs within historic buildings and farm structures and on the adjoining fields of the hamlet.
The highlight of the year is the Wassaic Project Summer Festival: a three-day celebration featuring more than 70 artists, 15 bands, along with food, film screenings and dance performances. This year’s festival takes place Friday through Sunday, August 1 to 3. Admission is free.
The buildings and properties of the Wassaic Project put the work in a context away from the traditional gallery or performance space, giving artists and performers a unique environment in which to exchange ideas, learn new things and just get together to do good creative work. Participants are encouraged to come for the day or stay the weekend, with camping on-site. (Volunteers who donate two four-hour shifts during the three-day festival can camp for free; see the website for details).
Programming is billed as “cutting-edge yet family-friendly.” The emphasis, whether in film, dance, music or visual arts, is on the innovative and emerging.
Visual arts are exhibited in the Maxon Mills, a repurposed seven-story grain elevator. This summer’s exhibition is “Seeing the Sky,” which investigates how artists explore, examine and work within their environments. The Wassaic Project invites viewers to climb the seven stories of the Maxon Mills grain elevator to see the work of more than 70 artists, half of whom are Wassaic artist residency alumni. “Seeing the Sky” is about the collision of natural and man-made worlds and the theme of habitation seen through the eyes of an artist.
The band lineup includes the Suzan, a pop/rock band from Tokyo; Body Language, a Brooklyn-based electro-dance quartet; Hess is More, a seven-piece band with Mikkel Hess out front; French Horn Rebellion, a Brooklyn-based electro-rock duo; Rocky and the Pressers, a six-piece reggae band from the Bronx and many more. Samples of their music and bios are all on the website, as is a nice video that gives a good sense of what people can expect once they get there.
Dance performances range from classical ballet and South Indian classical dance to tap and Afro-Haitian dance. Participating dancers include Earl Mosley’s Institute of the Arts, Barbara Mahler, OUI DANSE, MBDance, Kiran Rajagopalan, Daniel Gwirtzman Dance Company, Eva Dean Dance and Ranardo-Domeico Grays’ VISIONS Contemporary Ballet.
The film program highlights the best contemporary indie filmmakers in international and American cinema. Last year, the Wassaic Project invited 50 percent female directors to the festival, and this year the feature-film program lineup is 60 percent female directors, with female leads at the center of each film.
Films are screened throughout the day in the refurbished cattle auction ring in the middle of Wassaic and outdoors at night under the stars, with feature films along with a surprise outdoor midnight movie screening of “an acclaimed title that spooked and thrilled audiences at its premiere earlier this year.” Attention to short films is given as well; Jason Sondhi and Andrew S. Allen from the Short of the Week website will curate two short film programs and conduct a question-and-answer session with audience members on Saturday, August 2.
Desiree Akhavan will represent her debut feature film Appropriate Behavior. She was chosen as the Wassaic Project’s inaugural screenwriting resident this year and has been invited to Wassaic for a month to write her second feature. The third film in the program, Zero Motivation by Talya Lavie, was developed at the Sundance Institute Screenwriting and Directors’ Labs and won the Nora Ephron Prize this year at the TriBeCa Film Festival for Storytelling.
Wassaic Project Summer Festival, Friday-Sunday, August 1-3, Maxon Mills, 37 Furnace Bank Road, Wassaic; www.wassaicproject.org. The Wassaic Project Summer Festival is accessible by car or train – located, in fact, a short walk from the Metro North Harlem Line train station, where there’s a shuttle bus to the festival.