To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
– William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”
Part of the ongoing saga of how arts organizations have been weathering the pandemic is the rise in interest in outdoor presentation modalities. Sculpture gardens became irresistible destinations during 2020 and 2021. Mural projects caught figurative fire in many communities. Pop-up galleries, already trending before the pandemic, could still happen – so long as they didn’t require cramming people together inside a building.
It’s tempting to regard the latest project by New Paltz-based Roost Studios, dubbed Tiny Roost: Art on the Outside, as a pop-up, but it isn’t really. The Lucite-topped two-by-three-by-three-foot display box is due to be installed by mid-February in front of the Gardiner Library, with the first mini-exhibition scheduled in May. While the module is designed to be movable if needed, Roost founder/director Marcy Bernstein is hoping that it will stay on that site, with Library director Nicole Lane’s enthusiastic support.
“The Library is very excited about keeping it there permanently. Ideally, it’ll be a prototype,” says Bernstein of the display case created by 3-D fabrication design artist Ryan Solomons. “The box itself is a work of art. It’s almost finished. Ryan put in cool inlays with different types of wood.” With a steel-and-wood base, Tiny Roost is weatherproof, powered by solar energy and has both permanent and changeable signage, lighting and audio capability. As part of the project, funded by a Jumpstart the Arts grant from Arts Mid-Hudson, Solomons has also sketched a series of alternative designs, should funding materialize to replicate it elsewhere.
Tiny Roost is a logical progression from Roost Studios’ previous COVID-coping strategies, according to Bernstein. A membership-based arts cooperative, Roost was housed in a shared brick-and-mortar studio/exhibition space above a shop on lower Main Street in New Paltz until the pandemic started to peak in the spring of 2020. “We kept the doors open until June, and then we had to ask ourselves, ‘Why are we paying this rent here?’” she recalls.
To keep the organization afloat, Bernstein and her Board of Directors decided to make membership temporarily free, while rethinking how to provide services and continue to uphold Roost’s mission of “building community through the arts.” “We stopped charging, but kept serving everybody,” she says.
Like many organizations, Roost turned to virtual presentations, including an online gallery for members and a series of youth workshops called SmartArts, taught by interns from SUNY New Paltz. And as with many other arts entities profiled in these pages over the past two years, it didn’t take long for the organizers to notice that the Zoom classes, driven by necessity, were broadening their reach to people who would never otherwise have attended a Roost event because they lived much too far away or were disabled. Bernstein recalls sitting in on one class where two of the students were siblings living in India.
Another extremely successful adaptation was the series of “Art along the Trails” plein-air paint-outs – three so far – that Roost organized in tandem with the Mohonk Preserve. Member artists set up their easels near Mohonk’s Testimonial Gateway Trailhead to paint what they saw. Visitation to the Gunks by City people longing for the outdoors was at an all-time high; the participating artists sold plenty of paintings via the Preserve’s auction website, and Roost got a piece of the action to help sustain such ongoing expenses as art storage and its own website.
While no one would have chosen to shut down the Roost Gallery had there not been a pandemic, Bernstein has come around to thinking that the present moment is “perfect timing” to be exploring outdoor presentation modes. “Getting art outside into the community has continued to be the thing on my mind always,” she says. “Art was heading in that direction anyway. Artists were rebelling against what they call the ‘white box’: the four walls of a gallery. They want people to have a more direct experience of art…. We’re trying to take this idea and make it a bit more intentional.”
Inspired by seeing Little Free Libraries scattered around local communities, and by a “take some art, leave some art” kiosk in the Gardiner hamlet, Bernstein hit on the idea of creating portable boxes where Roost could “curate shows that would have an impact and message for the community and be beautiful, elegant, well-lit and carefully maintained in key public locations.” Lane signed on to have the Gardiner Library host the first Tiny Roost, and the project took off.
The next step, of course, is curation. Roost has just issued an open call for artists – from anywhere, and not just Roost collective members – to submit proposals for exhibitions of “socially relevant art” that will fit into a 24-by-36-inch space. Four artists will be chosen for monthlong solo exhibition opportunities, beginning May 1 to 31. Each will receive an honorarium ranging from $100 to $500 per artist, depending on how much grant support can be secured for Tiny Roost.
The challenge is to develop an innovative art project that meaningfully engages with issues of advocacy, justice and community-building. Visual/conceptual art, photography, new media, video, audio, creative writing and other artforms will be considered, although “visual art must be central to the project.” Artists will also be expected to create supporting “social practice” activities that engage communities in an interactive exchange — for example, a performance, drama or dance, a poetry reading, an artist talk, a garden, a meal, a website, a story exchange, an urban-planning project.
The submissions deadline for the inaugural Tiny Roost exhibition series is March 18, with notification of acceptance by the selection committee expected by March 25. There is no application fee. The jurors will choose to highlight work in a variety of media that deals creatively with themes related to identity, gender, race, age, cultural and social issues. The online portal for application materials can be accessed at www.roostcoop.org/tiny-roost-application.
To learn more about Roost Studios, become an artist member or supporter, volunteer on a specific project, apply to join the Board of Directors, mentor a student, teach a workshop, give an artist talk, show your art or make a tax-deductible donation, visit www.roostcoop.org/support-roost.