Sometime in January, artist/educator Marcy Bernstein and attorney/photographer David Wilkes came up the stairs at 69 Main Street in New Paltz, yoga mats under their arms, hoping to take their usual class at Jai Ma Yoga, not realizing that it had merged with Ashtanga Yoga and moved next door. What they found instead was the opportunity that Bernstein had been seeking for months: an ideal space to house a cooperative community center for the arts — if she can recruit enough artists who are serious enough to become dues-paying members.
Bernstein got the idea for Roost Studios and Cooperative Art Gallery after a serious bicycle accident last summer forced her to go on extended medical leave from her job as an art teacher in the Newburgh City Schools. The crash did extensive damage to her upper and lower jaws, and she has needed multiple reconstructive surgeries. The forced hiatus from work gave her time to think about bringing an idea to fruition that has been brewing in her mind for a long time: getting a core group of artists, educators and supporters of the arts together to sponsor a cooperative studio, classroom and exhibition space in downtown New Paltz.
“I have had a strong desire to connect many of the incredible creative people I know for a very long time,” she told attendees at an organizational meeting held at the proposed rental space on February 16, “to have beautiful exhibition space, to have inspiring workshop space, to pool resources and equipment and energy to have connected, thriving, creative community. That is the best thing that I could envision bringing my skills and my experience to in the second half of my life.”
“I have talked about it over the years to many of you. And I know a lot of you have had the same vision. But life gets pretty busy! And it was mostly just talk. Then this terrible bicycle accident that I had in August happened, and it really shook my world up. I can’t work at my regular teaching job because of multiple surgeries and healing time. I couldn’t run or bike or hike or rock climb. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself for a little while. But then something started to shift: I saw an opportunity. I did find myself with a space in my life that I have not had before. I started to make more art again…and decided to take on the project of creating a community art space more seriously and try to use my downtime and my physical setback as an opportunity to organize and create a plan to actually start the ball rolling on this.”
Bernstein and Wilkes quickly incorporated Roost Studios as a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization and spent several months researching potential sites. Upon discovering that the loft space at 69 Main Street was available for rent, they approached owners David and Judy Kanney about their idea, and about the need that many local artists feel for a place where they can show their art, share studio space with good light, offer art classes. The Kanneys agreed to let them use the loft rent-free for a month to hang some art and invite potential co-op members to check out the space’s potential.
The initial organizing meeting was well-attended. “We put an invitation out on Facebook to about 130 people, picked a date, and about 40 people showed up,” Bernstein reports. Twelve of the attendees indicated that they were ready to commit to the project. “Financially, we need about 20 artists on board who are willing to sign a contract. April 1 is our go or no-go date.”
Membership in Roost Studios Gallery will cost $85 per month for “active” members who commit to serving on the Advisory Board or attend at least six member meetings per year, as well as hold a Gallery job. “Less active” members can be on-site less of the time but must still volunteer four workdays per year; their monthly dues are $125. In addition, new members pay a one-time “initiation fee” of $200; the first ten members to sign contracts will have that fee waived. Besides access to studio workspace, each artist/member would be entitled to one solo show every two years, plus inclusion in a group show on the off-years. The inaugural exhibit has already been lined up: photography by Lonnie Schein, who was photo editor at The New York Times for 30 years.
The proposed Gallery space itself is handsomely renovated, with glossy wood floors, windows on two sides, a large main room ideal for exhibitions, performances, screenings and fundraising events, plus numerous smaller spaces suitable for workshops, studios and a darkroom. Bernstein speaks enthusiastically of her plans to teach encaustics classes and pinhole camera workshops; figure drawing sessions for the general public and collaborations with the New Paltz Central School District and SUNY New Paltz, including organizing an outdoor mural project, are on her wish list as well. The space could also be rented out for parties and fundraisers.
The founding members will be meeting in early March to submit their signed contracts and draft bylaws for the organization, so interested parties should contact Bernstein as soon as possible. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.