Arts spotlight on Kingston

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Vita brevis, ars longa.

— Latin translation of Greek aphorism attributed to Hippocrates

Six persons heavily involved with organizing the Kingston arts community sat at a table with me and journalistic colleague Dan Barton a couple of weeks ago. They came to discuss their involvement with the evolution of the city’s arts scene — to which last week’s opening of the 55-unit Lace Mill artists’ housing project on Cornell Street in Midtown has just given a huge boost.

Beyond the tedious compilations made of the economic impacts of what the arts do, the fact remains that the arts are big business in the Hudson Valley. ”Almost half a billion dollars in economic activity is generated by this sector, which directly or indirectly provides employment for almost 5000 Hudson Valley residents,” reported a widely quoted July 2014 study by New Paltz’s Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO). The value of volunteer labor adds additional millions to our regional economy.

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But the impacts go much deeper than these numbers. The entire Hudson Valley reeks of a rich and variegated culture. Contemporary arts, cultural and historical organizations, as CRREO said, “express local and regional identity while simultaneously informing the valley’s strong sense of place.”

A June 2015 Center for an Urban Future report found New York City had added 34,985 creative-arts workers in the decade ending in 2013 — making a total workforce of 295,755 in those ten industries (visual arts, performing arts, advertising, architecture, broadcasting, design, film and video, music and publishing, and independent artists).

in 2013. Though most creatives will probably want to remain as close to the urban action as possible, some will seek a more balanced lifestyle. The Hudson Valley may be one of their most congenial options.

 

To say that Richard Frumess of R&F Handmade Paints, who suggested our meeting, is a big believer in the arts as a key to the economic revitalization of Kingston is a gross understatement. Frumess’ enthusiasm during the multi-year effort to create a midtown arts district in the city has been unflagging. An arts district has become integral to the various initiatives to spruce up and improve the sprawling neighborhood. Working closely with city grantswriter Gregg Swanzey and mayor Shayne Gallo, Frumess has today become, though he’s far too modest to identify himself as such, the major figure in organizing Kingston’s arts community. He’s a founder of a city arts community commission, the latest step toward exploring the role of the arts community.

The other attendees at the meeting were potter and Bailey Pottery Equipment co-proprietor Anne Bailey, Frumess’ friend and neighbor on Ten Broeck Avenue; Kingston High School art teacher and artist Lara Giordano; college teacher, New York City arts administrator, adjunct professor at Queens College and sculptor Susan Spencer Crowe; Micah Blumenthal, a central figure in the Center for Creative Education in Stone Ridge, owner of a Kingston-based graphics arts business and now a resident of the Lace Mill; and Ray Curran, a former planner for Scenic Hudson who now categorizes himself primarily as an artist.

“RUPCO [Rural Ulster Preservation Company, which renovated the Lace Mill] was a real spark in getting us doing what we’re doing,” said Frumess.

Giordano saw the economic engine emerging around the arts as “an opportunity to break down the Balkanization” she said had characterized the local arts organizations. The education of young people in the arts was an important step. Blumenthal described the considerable work the Center for Creative Education had done in that direction.

Frumess saw the arts as closely connected to the development of personal self-esteem.

Part of this Kingston arts group’s beliefs is the confidence that what they’re doing is gathering momentum. They’re making a difference. “When we move together we can do anything,” said Bailey.

 

RUPCO’s cost to develop the Lace Mill end up at around $300,000 per apartment. “That a RUPCO unit costs more than your average rental unit to construct I don’t have a problem with,” wrote Dan Barton in his Kingston Times editorial last week, “as RUPCO is doing forward-thinking stuff like net-zero carbon impact and adding significant community space.”

RUPCO is all about affordable housing. It has participated in programs that have resulted in the rehabilitation of both owner-occupied and rental housing in Kingston and elsewhere. Its recent proposal for mixed-use development (including 61 new rental units) at Cedar Street in midtown Kingston seems to be moving down the pipeline toward realization.

Like others, Kingston is a beneficiary of a small-city renaissance that is attractive to arts-oriented communities along the Hudson River — Peekskill, Beacon and Hudson come immediately to mind — not just city artists but all kinds of other urban knowledge workers as well. These people are visiting friends, renting apartments and buying homes.

The combination of changing skills, education and interests within the Hudson Valley’s population is sure to be transformative. But has it not ever been so?

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