Melissa Auf der Maur & Tony Stone revivify old Hudson factory into thriving community/arts center
Basilica Hudson, a 19th-century rail foundry and later glue factory near the City of Hudson’s bay, sat vacant and cluttered for many years before artist Patrick Doyle acquired it in 2000 and gutted it. With the hall emptied, his friend noted, the inside looked like a church.
When musician Melissa Auf der Maur and her partner Tony Stone moved to the upstate city in 2008, they could see the industrial space from their house; and when Doyle moved away in 2010, they decided to buy the building. Auf der Maur spent nearly two decades performing with the bands Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, and she and Tony “were not in the City of Hudson looking to start a community center,” she said. “It fell into our laps, based on the fact that we really responded to the building’s raw shape, and it kind of showed us.”
During Doyle’s ownership the space was used for a few art shows and band practices, and Patti Smith played a benefit there in 2003 for the Friends of Hudson. Though the building was in good shape, structurally speaking, when Auf der Maur and Stone took it over, they made significant renovations. Stone, whom Auf der Maur described as “the man who has taken over the building,” researched the ancient nuts and bolts of the structure, from plumbing to “window hardware,” which transformed the space into “a more functioning place.”
This allowed Auf der Maur to offer a varied slate of programming. During the summer, Basilica Hudson hosts weekly outdoor film screenings, art exhibitions and concerts. It will also host the annual Basilica Soundscape, a curated music festival on September 12-14.
It’s tempting to categorize Basilica Hudson as simply an arts space, but the venue also recently hosted a talk organized by Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper on plans to ship crude oil on the Hudson River. The building can be rented for weddings, and fundraisers for Habitat for Humanity and the Hudson Opera House, among others, have been held there. This November, Basilica Hudson will host its second annual Farm + Flea market, and last year saw the Columbia and Greene County Buy Local Business Expo. The Kite’s Nest, a supplementary homeschooling program based in Basilica Hudson, hosts workshops, a community kitchen and a summer camp. For Auf der Maur, “The theme is being a one-stop shop for anything that can enhance the community’s life or can make a beautiful destination for anyone to come for a day for one of our events, or for a weekend.”
Though expanding, Basilica Hudson has a small staff running on, in Auf der Maur’s words, a “shoestring budget.” In order to pull off some of its bigger events, Basilica Hudson teams up with partners. Basilica Soundscape is presented with help from online music magazine Pitchfork, whose Brandon Stosuy programs one night of the festival [see sidebar in this edition of Almanac Weekly]. Last year’s Farm and Flea was presented with help from Bust Magazine and sponsored by Modern Farmer magazine.
In a sense, this is by design. “We certainly could be a mainstream wedding venue and make a living doing that; we could be a mainstream rock venue or beer garden if we wanted to,” Auf der Maur said, “but that’s not our priority. Our priority is community.” She described the programming as “cutting-edge, avant-garde, experimental, independent, adventurous, courageous, pioneering and designed to make people think.”
Though this mission may seem esoteric, Basilica Hudson is already making an impact. The NADA [New Art Dealers Alliance] Art Fair, held in 2011 and 2012, was well-attended. Three thousand people came to Hudson via Amtrak to attend in 2012: a record number that prompted calls from the New York State Tourism Board. “Every single restaurant,” Auf der Maur remembered, “was out of money, beer and food.”
But with the Kite’s Nest and other community programs, Auf der Maur’s goal is to be of interest to more than visitors from New York City. “We want many walks of life to come through the doors: all ages, people from far away and people from right around the corner.”