Harvey Fite’s stepson Tad Richards, his wife Pat Richards and Richards’ grandson Arick Manocha, joined several former Opus 40 volunteers last Friday in staging a protest calling for the removal of a recently erected temporary fence that separates the home Fite created from his iconic sculpture.
About a dozen protestors picketed on the Fite house side of the fence before hanging signs with slogans like “Fences are not Frames, and “Frame Art Don’t Fence It In.” The protestors played a clip of former President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 Berlin Wall speech where Reagan states: “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.”
Manocha called the protest a success and several guests at Opus 40, which was holding a concert that evening, looked over at the signs and engaged with the protestors. A town police car rolled through the Richards’ driveway, but did not stop. They later hung the signs on the fence facing Opus 40 guests.
“The Fite house’s protest was small and respectful,” Opus 40 Executive Director Caroline Crumpacker said. “We understood their intentions and, of course, support everyone’s right to express their opinions. We had a beautiful concert on the same night, so that was our focus, of course.”
Erected in early June by the not-for-profit, the chain-link fence has fueled the fire of an ongoing conflict between the organization, which operates the iconic bluestone sculpture park; Fite’s descendants, who own the home adjacent; and some of the site’s biggest fans and longtime volunteers. An online petition posted by “Friends of Opus 40” on Change.org demanding that the fence be taken down has attracted nearly 600 signatures.
Saugerties Town Supervisor Fred Costello met with the Richards and Opus 40 Inc. last Friday and both sides said they felt like progress was made towards a plan that would call for the removal of the fence, which the not-for-profit claims is necessary to avoid liability related to people trespassing on the sculpture at night.
Manocha said the family has not agreed to anything yet and is consulting with their attorney, but they feel things are heading in the right direction
Crumpacker said at the meeting that Opus-40 Inc. laid out a safety and management agreement that Opus 40 would require for the rental fence to be taken down. She said the meeting featured Pat and Tad Richards and representatives for the not-for-profit. “I am deeply grateful to Mr. Costello for his patience, vision and leadership,” she said.
The family recently put the home up for sale and Laurie Dellavilla, a real estate broker representing the family, said at least two buyers have made serious and viable offers for the home Fite built himself.
Standing in the home where he’s lived nearly his entire life, Tad Richards said the family will notify Opus 40 before any potential sale and give the not-for-profit a chance to respond. He said he wants to make sure it only goes to a buyer who will be a good steward of his stepfather’s legacy. Manocha said previously that he wants to see an agreement that would see the properties reunited.
“We are working with a real-estate broker who is talking with their real-estate broker,” Opus 40 leadership said. “The wheels are moving forward.”
Back outside, several former volunteers said they were also heartbroken by the fence and made signs in protest of it. They included Peggy Kremer of Highland, who wore the very t-shirt and badge she wore when she formerly volunteered at Opus 40.
Kremer said she knew Richards from his time as an instructor at SUNY New Paltz. She recalled how she was working on site when jazz legend Sonny Rollins took his legendary fall from the sculpture and she helped treat him so could go on playing.
Jim Weissman of Poughkeepsie, said he would volunteer from time to time at the concerts, some of which were held right on the sculpture. He said he hated the fence when he first saw it on Facebook, and he wanted to see it for himself. “Now I know how ugly it is,” he said. “I think it was a mistake doing this.”
Some former volunteers expressed sadness that they were no longer welcomed to work events after the Richards’ handed over the day-to-day operation. Crumpacker said that wasn’t the case and she said the not-for-profit’s staff were given the names of volunteers when she joined the site as executive director a few years back.
“We got so many calls in the first couple of years from interested neighbors and local people who wanted to be part of things that we prioritized people who reached out to us,” she said. “I don’t really remember who called us when, but anyone who got in touch with us was responded to as they are now. “We do now and have always worked with volunteers and sometimes also interns. It is always a pleasure to figure out the right niche for people who reach out. It is an organic process that we all enjoy very much.”
A few musicians were also among the protestors, including Larry Andreassen who played shows there in 2014, 2016 and 2019 as part of Paul Luke Band.
But Andreassen said his family’s history at Opus 40 goes back far longer to before Fite’s tragic death when his father served as the Fite’s electrician.
“I went here when I was four,” he said. “We used it as a playground. “Harvey would call Opus 40 a work from man for the world.”
“The fence is just horrible,” he said. “Someone is doing it in poor spirit. It’s not what Harvey envisioned.”
As for the future of the fence, Opus 40 stated how it could come down in a prepared statement: “Opus 40 has said since the very beginning that we will take down the fence once the gamut of safety and liability issues have been addressed and we can assume a baseline of safety without its presence. Once we have a binding arrangement toward that end, we will happily take down the fence.”