Faced with steadily decreasing enrollment and an increasingly irate taxpayer base, the Kingston City School District decided three years ago to consolidate its student populations and close several primary schools, effective the end of the 2012/13 school year. One of these was the Anna Devine Elementary School, located in the district’s southernmost reaches on Old Post Road in Rifton. The Anna Devine students are now bused to the Robert Graves Elementary School in Port Ewen for classes.
It wasn’t a popular decision with parents in the area. Aside from the longer commuting time, their offspring lost access to a number of highly valued amenities at Anna Devine, including a terrific stage, art, music and dance studio space and a long-running artists-in-residence program. And because Rifton has no real “downtown,” the school had served as a centralized gathering place for all sorts of community events.
Since the school’s closure, a group of former Anna Devine teachers, parents and working artists living nearby have gotten together to discuss how these enrichments might be restored to the community. Eyeing the empty school building, still owned by the district but languishing on the market due to its remote location, some of them have formed a business entity, All Creation, LLC, for the purpose of acquiring it. Their mission: to start up a new school for both kids and adults from throughout the county, to be called the Indigo Arts Academy.
Five of the principals behind the ambitious scheme gave a presentation on Saturday, March 21 at the Rosendale Community Center to begin to acquaint the general public with the project and recruit volunteers to help organize it. Probably the best-known of them locally is teacher/director Stephanie Marrinan, who is looking for a new home base for her Rondout Repertory Theatre Company. Anna Devine offers not only great indoor space for theatrical productions, but its ballfield also sits in a “bowl-shaped depression” that could easily be transformed into a “natural amphitheater” for Rondout Rep’s summer Shakespeare-in-the-park productions for youth, according to Indigo Arts organizer Stephanie Hogarth.
Hogarth, a painter who grew up in a family of working artists and said that she learned more from watching them than she ever did in school art classes, envisions a place that would employ local artists and artisans “who are really good at what they do” and provide internship opportunities for graduates from arts programs who need some teaching experience and a place to establish a body of work and show their art. She got involved with the group because “I wanted to start a school for creative thinking and thinking in new ways,” she said.
Hogarth offered the Woodcrest Bruderhof in Rifton as a model for hands-on education, though her concept of a holistic spiritual core for the Indigo Arts Academy’s philosophy would be considerably less sectarian than the Hutterian belief system. Fellow organizer Todd Ridolph, who has an engineering degree and a strong interest in innovative science curricula currently being developed based on the work of Nikola Tesla, also touted the benefits of an apprenticeship model that would have learners of all ages teaching one another real-world skills. “Keeping kids of the same age together fosters hypercompetitiveness,” he said. Ridolph advocates a return to the classical Trivium and Quadrivium model of liberal arts curriculum, which he said is primarily geared toward the development of critical thinking skills.
One of the volunteers working on developing curriculum for the Indigo Arts Academy is Zoya Geacintov, a professional potter who recalled that she “failed miserably at math” in a public school environment but became motivated to acquire STEM skills when her passion for ceramics required her to learn chemistry, physics and so on for firing and glazing her work. Geacintov said that the curriculum for the new school would ultimately be shaped by the community that forms around the concept, but suggested that the project might “start by providing space for homeschooling families and workshops for adults,” then move on to afterschool programs organized in partnership with the many arts organizations that exist in the area. “The whole point is to be a small community in a large community in a larger community,” she said.
Also in attendance at the public forum in Rosendale was Barbara Strnadova, a photographer and dancer who is currently helping to develop a business plan for the joint venture and said that investors and people with fundraising skills are especially needed to get the project off the ground. She praised the abundant studio space available at Anna Devine — which was constructed in 1954 and expanded in 1971 and in sound structural condition following significant investment in renovations during its last years as a public school — and suggested that some of the space might be made available for rental. She also noted the well-maintained site for the school’s garden: “I’d love to rekindle that,” she said.
Saturday’s presentation ended with an appeal to those in attendance: “What would you like to see at the Indigo Arts Academy?” Audience members recalled the controversy that arose in the community over a failed proposal to build a mega-firehouse across the street from Anna Devine, and urged the organizers to do serious outreach to neighbors and taxpayers who might be a little skeptical of the project.
One attendee who identified herself as a public librarian noted the absence of an arts council in Ulster County in recent years, saying, “It would be nice to have a community center where artists could go.” She recommended that the Academy partner with entities like libraries that already offer afterschool programs, rather than compete with them. “We can’t provide everything to everybody. We’re not in competition,” responded Geacintov. Hogarth agreed: “We want to offer something that’s not being offered.”
To find out more about the project or to volunteer, e-mail Stephanie Hogarth at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the Indigo Arts Academy page on Facebook.