As anyone knows who has been paying attention to the news out of the Unison Arts & Learning Center over the last several years, keeping the venerable organization afloat in tough economic times has been a real challenge. A new Board of Directors who stepped in about two years ago helped dig Unison out of debt and began to address longstanding infrastructure issues, like problems with the water system. Now those rescuers are moving on and a younger crop is moving in, with some fresh ideas about how to diversify the organization’s income streams. Unison founder and longtime artistic director Stuart Bigley calls them “this new gang on their white horses,” and “the most exciting thing that’s happened lately.”
While concerts, art shows and classes in drawing and tai chi will continue, this spring Unison is turning the spotlight on another facet of its value to the community: its appeal as a rental venue for weddings and other special events. The indoor concert/gallery space is ideal for medium-sized gatherings like rehearsal dinners, anniversary parties, bar/bat mitzvahs and so on. And when the weather warms up, the sculpture garden out back provides a magical series of spaces for outdoor weddings, with room at the back for a big tent.
A committee of volunteers has coalesced to boost Unison as an events venue on the limited number of dates when live performances and classes aren’t scheduled. To announce the launch of this new program, Unison hosted its first “Celebrations Showcase” last Sunday afternoon, March 26. The focus was on weddings, and a variety of locally based vendors set up tables to show off their services to potential clients and network with one another.
“I love Unison. I’ve been coming here for years. I’m one of the craftspeople who do wreaths every year for the Christmas sale,” says Elissa Cimino, a volunteer who also runs Flowers by Elissa. She was one of the group who organized the Celebrations Showcase event, inviting her contacts in other wedding services businesses to participate. “It’s a way to bring in local vendors, and also introduces this gorgeous space,” she says. “We want people to know that this is open for weddings and parties. There are not so many places around here for events.”
Some caterer tables at the Showcase offered food samples, like the tiny cakes and savory caramelized onion puffs put out by Gina Vaccarino of the Cake Artist. “There’s been a lot of networking with other vendors. There are a lot of really talented people here that I’ve met today,” Vaccarino reports.
Hair stylist Brigette Lewis of Signature Braids demonstrated her craft on a wig, while traveling makeup artist Karen Schrowang of LaV Beauty had a slideshow of very persuasive “before and after” photos of some of her clients. Style de Rêves Custom Dressmaking displayed a wedding gown on a mannequin; Duetimage Photography’s samples included a series of engagement party photos shot in the Unison sculpture garden. World Famous DJs weren’t spinning any platters, but they were giving away free sunglasses so you could look the part of a hipster. There were bakeries and beverage suppliers, jewelry and table setting designers, florists and tent-renters, lodging hosts, wedding planners and officiants.
“What I like about the new group is that they still have a lot of tread on their tires,” says Bigley. “They’re trying a lot of things to make the organization sustainable. Events are part of the puzzle… If we can do two or three parties a month, that’ll go a long way toward making our nut. But it’s means to an end. The plan is still to have concerts and classes. Arts programming is what our main mission is.”
To inquire about availability, prices and services for events at Unison, call (845) 255-1559 or e-mail email@example.com.