Kingston arts celebration puts spotlight on Midtown

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

Less than three years after Kingston’s Midtown Arts District (MAD) initiative was launched in October 2014, the City’s Broadway corridor is pulsing with new energy. On August 3, a Celebration of the Arts concert will take place in a big tent set up on a city-owned lot, a rousing musical event that will encapsulate the eclectic talent in the region. The tent also hosts a marketplace every Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. featuring the wares and produce of local makers and growers.

Midtown’s pioneer gallery, ArtBar, at 674 Broadway, has been joined by restaurants Peace Nation Café and PAKT, along with storefronts opened by Kingston maker Black Creek Merchandise and Riley Johndonnell’s UMEWE think tank, which uses the color yellow for its optimistic public art projects. Two other previously moribund storefronts have been repurposed as MAD-sponsored community art centers.

Building-owner Ed Lang is donating the spaces at 624 and 626 Broadway, where Kingston High School art teacher Lara Giordana is engaging high school students to help make, exhibit and curate art in these spaces. Two years ago she started the Pop Up Gallery Corp. (PUGG) at number 624, which was followed in December by the opening of the Department of Regional Art Workers, or DRAW, next door. PUGG hosted its first artist-in-residence, Brandon Lewis, in the spring. A program of workshops for 10-to-14-year-olds, including printmaking (on an intaglio press donated to DRAW by the Women’s Studio Workshop) and comic-book writing, are being held at DRAW, along with a live model drawing class, featuring models in elaborate costumes, on Saturday mornings.


Giordana is working with alumni from Kingston High School’s Art Program to schedule shows and activities for youth in making, marketing, exhibiting and curating art. Youth worked with Riley Johndonnell in a couple of his UMEWE shows, and in addition to PUGG and DRAW, the alumni group also has access to a 1,000-square-foot space above Just for You Restaurant, which in September will host an exhibition of the alumni’s work.

On Cornell Street, filmmaker Sarah Carlson is setting up another community art space, which will offer studios as well as a common exhibition room, and further up Broadway, Broadway Arts is another storefront space that is planning exhibitions and classes.

Back in the 1970s, Ben Wigfall, a Yale-educated SUNY-New Paltz Art professor, set up a printmaking studio called Communications Village in the neighborhood of Ponckhockie, where professional artists, mainly from New York City, taught local youth. The facility changed the lives of many, and Wigfall, who died last year, serves as an inspiration and model for MAD’s emphasis on community arts. “Ben Wigfall gave us a history in making the community the owners of the Arts District, of bringing the artists and residential community together, of bringing out the art that’s within the residents as well as bringing art to them.,” said Richard Frumess, founder of the successful encaustic and oil-stick paint manufacturer on Ten Broeck Street, R & F Handmade Paints.

If Wigfall is MAD’s spiritual father, another recently deceased creative giant, the late Pauline Oliveros, serves as its spiritual mother. Oliveros, a Kingston-based electronic music composer, performer, teacher and local arts activist whose sound compositions and digital accordion playing revolutionized the way people perceive the sonic environment, actively lobbied for and supported the District herself, said Frumess. (It was Frumess’ discussion with Anne Bailey, co-owner of R & F’s neighbor, the Bailey Ceramic Supplies and Pottery Equipment Corp., which manufactures wheels and other pottery tools and supplies, who were both members of the then-mayor’s Arts Advisory Board, that launched the idea of the Arts District. The two have been MAD’s movers and shakers and serve on MAD’s board.) “Pauline demonstrated Kingston offers the kind of climate that attracts big-name artists, of which we have many,” Frumess said.

Besides attracting new art-related businesses, a key plank of MAD is cultivating the creative resources that already exist, of which both Wigfall and Oliveros were powerful exemplifiers. “We’re realizing the depth of possibilities for getting communities involved,” said Frumess. “I would like to see Midtown businesses” – of which there are more than 100 – “coordinate with the arts as central to their mission, and to reach out to all businesses, not just arts-related ones, to find an arts component.” Among the incoming businesses with which he hopes to connect are a new foundry that’s starting up in Midtown and a new neon design shop launched on Down Street.

Existing arts-related assets that anchor the District are the two large complexes of artists’ lofts in former factories in the area: the Shirt Factory and the Lace Mill, and the Ulster Performing Arts Center, which brings in top-name performers.

Awareness about MAD and Midtown’s budding arts community has been given a boost with an online newsletter that is sent out biweekly to 700 subscribers. The newsletter, which is designed by Rick Whelan and edited by Debra Bresnan, includes a question-and-answer session with an arts practitioner in the area as well as updates and a calendar of events. In addition, MAD publishes a print map of gallery openings for each First Saturday, helping guide the visitor through the maze of art venues scattered through Midtown, Uptown, the Rondout and points father afield. Whelan, who designed the map, said that it map is distributed in advance to the galleries and other venues, along with the Shirt Factory and restaurants. MAD also has an updated Facebook page.

MAD’s Steering Committee for the Arts District meets the first Thursday of the month and is open to the public; notes on the meeting are published on the website,