Now in their second year of existence as a purely member-supported arts cooperative, the Roost Studios & Art Gallery in downtown New Paltz are beginning to show persuasive signs of viability. The space’s second annual Holiday Gala & Art Show last Saturday evening was jam-packed with members, supporters, outside artists and art-lovers, and the mood was festive and upbeat. For the first couple of hours, in fact, one could hardly get a close look at any of the 180 artworks on display, for all the milling bodies of people greeting friends, bidding on silent auction items, nibbling on hors d’oeuvres donated by the Village Tea Room and sipping prosecco from Fox & Hound. The press of flesh didn’t deter visitors from buying, though; all over the main room, small paper signs proclaiming “Sold! I have a new place to Roost” hung in empty spaces that artworks had previously occupied.
According to Roost board president Marcy Bernstein, “85 accomplished artists” had their work on view, not all of them co-op members. “It’s totally open to the community. We don’t turn anyone away,” she says. With a $10 hanging fee and no jury process, the array of art on display, unsurprisingly, ranged from amateurish to highly skilled and sophisticated; but all pieces were displayed to their best advantage. Sale prices ranged from $50 to $250 for works that ran the full gamut of two-dimensional media: drawings in pencil, ink and marker; charcoals and pastels; paintings in watercolor, acrylic, oils and encaustics; silkscreen prints; photography both straightforward and highly processed; collage and low-relief sculptural assemblage; fused glass; even digital and photographic images on metal. There was something for everyone.
Only two criteria were used to screen out some entries — the most rigid being a size limitation of 11 by 14 inches, so that as many artworks as possible could be accommodated in Roost’s main gallery space. The other was, this being a holiday show, that the subject matter must be family-friendly — this time around. “We get a lot of submissions that are too erotic or too feminist or too political,” Bernstein explains. “I’m thinking of doing a show sometime next year that’s maybe more edgy. But it’s not board-approved yet.”
Although Roost was Bernstein’s brainchild, she functions as a first among equals in running the cooperative. The organization has no paid employees, and she has nothing but praise for her fellow volunteer officers — a group she calls “symbiotic.” “We have a great board of directors. But I sometimes get some pushback,” she notes. “Marcy is a fountain of ideas that often take shape,” says painter Stacie Flint, currently serving as the organization’s board secretary.
Roost’s membership currently numbers 23 local artists who are willing to pay $125 per month towards keeping the shared exhibition and workspace upstairs at 69 Main Street going, per vice president David Wilkes. Each member is also expected to put in some time each month as a docent or workshop instructor, or to help in setting up and taking down exhibitions. In return, they get a guaranteed shot at a solo show every so often, plus a place to teach, learn and commune with fellow local artists.
Among the services that Roost’s members offer to the public are live drawing sessions called Model Mondays; Calling All Poets open-mic readings on the first Friday of each month; weekly tai chi, kung fu, tango and swing dance workshops for a variety of age groups; a youth group, who painted that great mural out by the Recycling Center on Clearwater Road; Paint & Sip and Dinner Date/Kids Create events. Demand is high — and not only among Paltzonians, with some of the workshop regulars coming from as far afield as Kingston. There’s more yet to come, limited only by the imaginations, energy level and organizational know-how of Roost members. “We’re talking about something that would be like a salon,” notes Wilkes.
One active charter member is New Paltz Times columnist Susan Slotnick, who, although she is best-known locally as a choreographer and dance teacher, actually got her academic training in Arts Education. She decided to focus more seriously on her painting after retiring her dance company, which, she says, caused “a large hole left in my heart. I’m grateful to have Roost. It feels like a full circle, coming back to it.”
Besides hanging in the show, some of her paintings also appear on notecards for sale in Roost’s gift shop. Slotnick is also planning to facilitate a consciousness-raising-format discussion group for visual artists, in which they will be tasked to “bring in the earliest art they made,” share how the passion to make art was kindled in them and discover their commonalities. “My agenda for joining Roost was to have a venue to talk about art with other artists,” Slotnick explains.
That’s exactly the sort of project that the cooperative gallery was conceived to help host. “My vision was to create a nonprofit space for arts in the village,” says Bernstein, gazing happily around at the enthusiastic crowd drawn to Saturday’s gala and opening. “It looks to me like my vision is being achieved.”
Roost Gallery’s 2017 Holiday Art Show will remain on view to the public through January 7, 2018 (though there will be less and less art to see as more and more gets bought). An excellent time to visit will be the Holiday Gift Sale being organized by jeweler Karen Sawdey, which will take place this coming weekend, December 9 and 10 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is free. To find out more, visit www.roostcoop.org.