Center for Photography gets a house


Sometimes opportunities arise, based on past actions that went better than ever expected, which need immediate action. And at such times, communities come together and show their mettle.

So muses Hannah Frieser, executive director at the Center for Photography at Woodstock, about the fundraising plea she put out less than two weeks ago. And completed within days.

The opportunity was the chance for the arts organization, celebrating its 40th year, to buy a building on Glasco Turnpike in which it could house its annual artists-in-residence. And not just any building, but the former home of artist Henry Mattson, built in 1824 and once home to the artist Frank Swift Chase, as well.


With two bedrooms and a large loft studio space upstairs, the home had served as the rented home for CPW’s artists in residence earlier this decade. But then a story began…

“The Center had rented the house for three summers but then it was sold without us being able to make an offer,” Frieser said, referring to the groundwork her predecessor at CPW, Ariel Shanberg, had done before her arrival in late 2015. “Ariel went to the seller and expressed his regret that CPW couldn’t purchase the home, while also wishing him well. They left it in a good place and then the new owners renovated the place beautifully but found they had to sell, and they came to us first, giving us an incredible chance to make an offer before the house went on the market.”

Even though that selling figure was “under $200,000,” it represented “serious money” for a nonprofit such as the Center. Especially when some financing terms shifted and the amounted needed in cash grew.

Frieser said that $88,500 came in through two grants from the Phillip and Edith Leonian and Thompson Family foundations. At which point the CPW board reached out to some people who had given to the organization in recent years, via an email and direct phone calls, “and it went completely grass roots, with over 100 people giving over $30,000. Unbelievable.”

“We are about to buy this house as live-work space for artists. This artist house will change the way CPW can work with artists,” read the email sent out March 15. “It will allow us to expand the existing artist-in-residence program for artists and writers of color, establish an expanded visiting artist program and invite former AIRs back to CPW. The reward for artists will be: Two private bedrooms and a huge attic studio with large studio windows, high ceilings into the rafters, an abundance of work tables, an office and room for a lighting studio, all in walking distance to CPW and its facilities.”

Well, make that a long walk…or easy biking distance, given the new supply of bicycles that will be available for residents after all the home’s furnishing gets completed over the next month, in time for the May start of the annual program.

Asked whether the program will be expanded into colder months now, Frieser said such things still had to be worked out, given that AIR participants get stipends, and further fundraising would be necessary. Right now, the executive director is looking at the chance for greater flexibility with AIR visits, or exhibition artists working on gallery shows at CPW’s main building on Tinker Street.

“The place has been a general store, a blacksmith’s home, and a plaque on the house’s front says Mattson worked there for 50 years,” she continued. “It’s quirky, it’s wonderfully Woodstock in its unusualness, but also with a studio that’s like a dream come true. Theoretically, it means we never have to rent again.”

As for other building news, in the Center’s equally old home on Tinker Street where the legendary Cafe Espresso was once housed, Frieser said renovations had been proceeding “space to space” over the past year, with much decluttering, painting, rethinking of uses, and now an updating of the building’s front porch before summer arrives.

“We’re updating the digital lab. We’re being certain about what we want in each space we have,” she explained. “We’ve been going through a period of reflection and reinvention and having fun with it.”

Upcoming events that CPW is pushing include a mid-May portfolio review weekend that many are already signed up for, as well as an early July series of anniversary events being geared to celebrate both the center’s history and the building’s, with plenty of music.

We laugh, kibbitzing over the fact that one of the old cafe’s leading inhabitants, Bob Dylan, will be in the region around the same time, but simultaneously realizing that one can only ask so much of the unexpected.

“Suffice it to say we’re planning an open house at the new artist’s house in a few weeks,” Frieser concluded. And then she paused a moment. “I guess this all goes to show that if you have the right project people come through for you.”

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