Dozens of concerned supporters of the Unison Arts and Learning Center, a keystone of the New Paltz cultural scene since 1975, gathered Sunday night for a meeting of the not-for-profit organization’s board of directors. The turnout was in response to an announcement e-mailed to members earlier in the week that Unison would vacate its original premises at 68 Mountain Rest Road in January 2015 and “move our office to temporary quarters in the Village of New Paltz.” The proposed new address has not yet been divulged as of presstime.
“Maintaining the rented facility over the years has become a financial burden,” said the announcement signed by board president Tom Nolan. “Parking lot conditions, breakdowns in plumbing and replacement of our air conditioning system are the most visible, but it has also cost us significant revenue with the loss of Wayfinders and other programs due to water problems.”
Nolan told the New Paltz Times that rental of the facility by the Kingston-based Wayfinder Experience to run day camps each summer was a large component of the organization’s annual revenue. “The Health Department questioned the well. It had not been tested in anybody’s memory,” he explained. “So Wayfinders left; they had to.”
Turnout for concerts at Unison has also been falling off, Nolan said, with one recent event drawing a total audience of only seven. “Our fanbase is aging out, and we’ve been unsuccessful in bringing younger people in.” Noting that other nearby venues like the Falcon in Marlboro and the Rosendale Café present many of the same performers, he said that the acoustics of the Unison theater are not friendly to much amplification, ruling out rock bands and other electrified acts that might appeal to a younger demographic.
The letter to members went on to say that “Unison is not a location on Mountain Rest Road, but rather an organization with a long history of providing the most eclectic live entertainment in the area. We intend to continue that through the use of local rental facilities as we need it. Granted we lose the gallery space, but not forever.”
The plan announced by the board did not sit well with longtime Unison supporters in attendance at the meeting, several of whom expressed shock that members had not been informed much earlier of the severity of the organization’s financial problems. “We were told it was our last chance to say anything, but this is the first I’ve heard of it,” said Vicki Morgan Erenzo. “Why spend a couple of years talking about this without reaching out to members?”
Nolan countered that every recent newsletter or event announcement sent to members — who number fewer than 400 at this point — had included a plea for donations, but that the response had been muted. “If I realized how desperate things are, maybe I would’ve contributed more,” said Annie O’Neill.