Sitting behind a nondescript doorway on 220 Main Street in the Village of Saugerties lies what artist Kelli Bickman thinks of as Saugerties’ best-kept secret. Beyond the doorway are stairs that wind through a labyrinthine three stories of art, music and living creativity. The top floor boasts 5000 square feet of space that has been used by sources as diverse as film studios, a Sudbury School, and comedy groups. With floor-to-ceiling windows, a view above the building line all the way to the mountains, space enough to create a 36-foot mural on the floor, and what Bickman calls “killer sound,” it’s become a destination for groups who are looking for space to create and perform in a welcoming environment.
Bickman, whose work is currently on display at Rock the Casbah and The Dutch Ale House, was living in and renting studio space for her art and clothing line on the bottom floors of the building. Two years ago, when the tenant renting the top level moved out, she took over the lease, saying the space was meant for her. In the enormous pink ballroom on the top floor, which plays host to regular pole dancing and aerial yoga classes, she and Bryan Lurie, a musician who regularly travels from New York City to use the space, discuss how their vision for this community space fits into Saugerties.
The past and the present
The building formerly served as an Odd Fellows Temple. The Odd Fellows were a fraternal organization dating back to the mid-eighteenth-century in London. Lurie calls them “a do-good organization with a flair.” Bickman adds that the group had pledged to educate the orphans, care for the poor, and feed the homeless. She says she has upheld each of those tenets since taking over the building.
The two feel their aesthetic and vision fits in with the building’s original purpose. The letters F,L and T above the entrance stand for friendship, love and truth. Bickman says the events hosted here have encompassed those values. Lurie says “we feel at home here,” calling it an “effortless fit.” Building owner Jerry Schakne, himself a former member of the Odd Fellows, has been supportive of the building’s latest evolution, according to Bickman.
To say there is a lot happening in the space currently is an understatement. There are Air BnB rooms for rent, fencing classes, music classes, plans for beatbox sessions, classical ballet classes, and burlesque performances. Though the diversity of interests seems vast, Bickman points out that she tries to stick to events that foster “a spiritual awakening,”
At one of the earliest events held in the space, the music was so loud the cops came to shut the party down. Bickman decided this was not the kind of environment she wanted to create. With nearby residential neighbors and a long history to maintain, she instead focused on the type of events that “work in harmony with the space.” This includes yoga classes followed by a “sound bath,” and the construction of a large flower mandala for Earth Day.
Most walls in the building, including the stairwells, hold artwork from Bickman and other local artists, including Christina Varga of Woodstock and Brandon Chrisjohn of Catskill. Those who are not visual artists have also contributed to the current look of the place. Bickman points to a wall with graffiti made by a film crew who had rented the space. She said she liked the look so much she kept it.
Bickman, originally from Minnesota, terms Saugerties “a collaborative community.” True to this sense of collaboration, she says she’s been talking to the other galleries in the village, discussing a possible future art walk ending in a party in the ballroom. Lurie also mentions the possibility of a live feed of events in the space being played outside, so passersby can also enjoy the energy. In five years, he says, he envisions it becoming a “creative hub for the region.” “It’s already happening,” he says.
It’s neither a theater or a club, but all of those things. He sees it as a destination for artists of all stripes from the city and beyond.
As for the building itself, restored to its former role as a community space, Bickman says she’d love to make the front of the building shine again, and complete some repairs to the interior. Laughing in the midst of a tropical August heat wave, she adds, “and maybe some air conditioning.”
Bickman’s work can be found at kellibickman.net, where upcoming events at the Odd Fellows Temple are also listed.