When Linda Mussmann and Claudia Bruce brought the not-for-profit arts organization Time & Space, Limited (TSL) to the City of Hudson in the early 1990s, the matter at hand was a combination of artistic freedom and real estate. “We had issues in New York about space,” says Mussmann. “We wanted to find a community that could support what we wanted to do – and be able to own a building. In the City, we were always subject to being at the mercy of landlords.” She explains how their decision was also prompted by “the whole kerfuffle around censorship and Mapplethorpe.”
“There was an awareness that political winds were not blowing in our favor.” In order to maintain creative integrity, TSL gave money back to the National Endowment for the Arts when that organization required the signing of an anti-obscenity pledge. “We were cutting a lot of our funding out, and to this day we don’t receive money from NEA because of that. We wanted to secure a place we had more control over, to have a home, and survive in a better way through memberships and contributions and small foundations.”
Landing in Hudson in 1991 was fortuitous. Bruce and Mussmann walked into an affordable building – a one-time bakery built in 1929 – and recognized its potential as an ever-evolving space for artists and community members to come together. Two massive areas house two theaters and a gathering room with tables and chairs and an attached snack bar. The large theater regularly seats opera aficionados when live performances of the Metropolitan Opera are streamed in by satellite. Or locals can enjoy the Bolshoi Ballet or plays mounted by Stage Russia or productions from the National Theatre in London. Classic and independent films are screened in both theaters.
“In 1994, we started screening movies with a 16mm projector,” says Bruce. “Linda ran it and I did the popcorn. She would change the reel and I would up the light on the popcorn stand. We had hard wooden pews, and people would bring their own pillows. Over time we acquired another 16mm projector” – and more comfortable seating, rescued from old theaters, and new technology, such as the two satellite dishes mounted on the roof, making simulcasts of world programming available.
“We’ve been doing it for 11 years; we were the first to take it on,” says Bruce. “It’s how TSL has evolved. It’s such a great alternative spirit, and we’re always ready for whatever’s going on. When 16mm movies were phased out and we started screening on digital projectors – another piece of technology that didn’t exist when we came here – we were able to compete for movies that 20 years ago we couldn’t touch.” Today the two theaters are each outfitted with state-of-the-art digital and HD projectors and Dolby surround-sound.
“It’s probably acoustically one of the best places to see HD live,” says Mussmann. “And we are the smallest space the Met has on their roster. Half the ticket price goes to the Met, and we maintain everything else.” Everything else means administration and coordination of multiple programs at once, facility buildout and maintenance and, most importantly, responding to the needs and demands of the community. It’s essentially a two-person operation, augmented by volunteers and interns who take up the slack in some tasks.
The couple’s willingness to jump into the next great thing, to allow programs to morph into their own best form, reflects their beginnings as artists. “We’re theater people,” says Bruce. “In New York we used to do avant-garde, experimental stuff… not your regular ‘beginning/middle/denouement/ending’ sort of theater. When we came up here, we looked out and saw that there’s a lot we could offer here. We were the first people who put together a full-time art space in Hudson, believing that people could use the kind of alternative art scene that we provided. We’re not your normal cup of tea. We insist that art be part of dialogues and conversations that change people’s lives.”
To that end, TSL opens its doors to community organizations such as Planned Parenthood, which is doing an outreach program this month, and the Long Table Harvest, a gleaning program that collects and distributes unused food to needy people. “We rent space out occasionally, or sometimes the community needs a place to meet for free, and both are available.” Over more than two decades, TSL’s youth programs have nurtured young people and introduced them to a level of art culture that was not formerly available to them. “Right now we have an apprentice program. Young people are working with us to learn different skills,” adds Mussmann.
With an overarching mission to “encourage artistic expression in daily life,” Mussmann and Bruce invite individuals of all ages and families of all backgrounds to participate in the visual and performance arts, explore themes of local and global concerns and engage with the diverse populations in the region. The physical space, entirely unpretentious, invites interaction. Bruce notes how the gathering room with its “popcorn stand” at one end offers people the opportunity to talk about what they’re seeing and doing at TSL. “When we play the opera, we serve sandwiches and pastry because it’s so long,” says Mussmann.
Neither woman is originally from New York: Bruce grew up in Georgia and came to New York in 1969; Mussmann came from Indiana the same year. Both were eager to escape small-town America and stretch their creative wings in the environment of the City, but didn’t meet each either until 1976, by which time Mussmann had already founded TSL. “New York was the magnet for people like us who were on the outer fringes of American culture. We all gravitated to New York City. I was close to Chicago, but Chicago was limited; it didn’t have much in alternative arts.”
Operating on the belief that art is what holds us all together as a human family, empowering us to grow and evolve as a species, Mussmann and Bruce live the dream. They celebrate great stories, great art, independent creative expression and all the hard work that goes with the territory. “We’re here all the time; we answer the phone, Claudia tends the parking lot and welcomes people in. Many people of the opera community are older. They need access to a place that’s comfortable. So there are no steps in TSL; you can function with a wheelchair or walker or a cane, and simply get in and out quickly.”
Bruce comments on the age span of their clientele: “The interesting thing about our younger crowd is that they come for the independent movies. And over the years, those groups [young and older] have commingled. The love of theater or the movies can translate to love of the ballet or opera.” With no national or state funding, but with tremendous ongoing support from members and other community businesses and organizations, TSL has become a valuable cultural resource. Check its website for upcoming performances and events.
Time & Space Limited, 434 Columbia Street, Hudson; (518) 822-8100, www.timeandspace.org.