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Old doors, new purpose: the Contemporary Artists Center at Woodside Presbyterian Church.

Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen

Ironworks Plus Internet Equals Arts Center

An iron foundry of the indus trial revolution financed the Woodside Church in South Troy, and now, in its third century, the 1869 gothic revival has a new life, partially funded by the technological revolution: The deteriorating building is being restored with grant money earned in online contests. Now occupied by the Contemporary Artists Center, the hilltop church built by Troy inventor Henry Burden is undergoing renovations for its new service as an exhibition space. Relocating from the Berkshires, the CAC purchased the church, its chapel, and a swath of the Burden Ironworks grounds in 2007 [“Forging a Renaissance,” April 9, 2009]. The chapel was converted to an artists’ residence last year, but the larger—and more historic—church needed major exterior repairs, along with modern capabilities that might’ve been beyond the fund-raising reach of a small nonprofit. Last month, the CAC won a $50,000 grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project’s community contest.

“It’s tremendously exciting,” says Hezzie Phillips, the center’s executive director. “I almost cried. To work so hard with a team of people, and then seeing your name up there as having won, it’s extremely rewarding.” The grant is financing the painstaking work of repairing the church’s peak gables, which includes removing the locally quarried blue-sandstone veneer stones and returning each one to its exact position.

“It was our first real step out into the community,” says Phillips of the contest. “We hadn’t really done events, and a lot of people found out about what we were doing because of it. I was overwhelmed by the amount of support.”

Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen

When Phillips and CAC project manager John Johanson were searching for a new home for the center, they scouted within an hour’s radius of their former location in an old mill building in North Adams. “We looked in Hancock, we even considered Vermont,” says Phillips. “Troy is exactly one hour, and John knew about the buildings because he was a student at [Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute].” Phillips adds that in addition to the reputation of Troy’s artistic solidarity, both of them were attracted to the buildings’ grand romantic history, especially the story of Burden being inspired to construct a church in memory of his devoted wife, Helen. The center purchased the property from Burden’s great-great grandchildren. “They wanted us to have it,” says Phillips of Ada Gates Patton (a former art dealer) and Christopher Burden. With the assistance of the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway, the Burden heirs resumed ownership of the property and sold it to the CAC to save it from demolition. Phillips says that integrating abandoned old structures into their communities is part of the center’s mission, and that historic preservation and environmental sustainability is what she does. “Some artists paint or do sculpture,” she explains. “My art is rehabilitating spaces for them to work in.”

In another keystroke of good fortune, CAC won another online grant three weeks ago, from Chase Bank. “The continued support of the community in helping us to attain it is so inspiring,” says Phillips. The additional $20,000 will finance the installation of plumbing, including bathrooms, and electricity. Aside from relocating some pews, however, the interior will remain unaltered. “The main building is covered by a historic covenant, but we love it almost exactly as it is,” says Phillips. “It’s simple and serene,” says Johanson, noting that the Presbyterian church doesn’t contain any human figures or gothic extravagances, and what embellishment there is consists of oak leaves, fleurs-de-lis, and other non-ecclesiastical motifs. “It isn’t over-the-top or baroque,” Phillips continues. “The décor won’t compete with the art.” Its conversion to an exhibition hall is expected to be completed by fall 2011.

The Burden heirs did give the CAC permission to modify the chapel, a reconstruction of the original, which burned down in 1907. Now bustling with activity from resident artists, the chapel boasts an airy, open floor plan that includes lofted bedrooms and workspaces for video and sound technologies. The interior is complemented by a seemingly floating spiral staircase custom built in Maine.

“This is a new chapter for the CAC,” says Phillips. Aside from expanding the number of residents, the center’s new home will also allow for year-round programming for the first time. “The North Adams building didn’t have heat, and it was really a summer community,” she says. “We’re tripling the amount of programming that we can do, we’re expanding the volume, and we can be more ambitious in programming, which is really exciting. We’ll have work specific to the site, large-scale installations, debut works, all media, and dance. And more of an emphasis of integrating the history of the local community than ever before,” she adds.

Not only is CAC at Woodside a new life for the Burden properties, it also brings their romantic history full circle: Phillips and Johanson have bought a house not far from where Henry and Helen once lived, and are to be married in October.

—Ann Morrow

 

Talk to the cat: Hugo’s Living Room Discussion at ACG.

Art Beat

DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY? Hey, it’s 1st Friday time again in Albany! As usual, lots of good stuff is going on. For example . . . Just in over the electronic transom comes word of the latest exhibit at Albany Center Galleries (39 Columbia St., Albany). Titled Domestic Dramas, it features works by David Austin, Erin Colligan, Ashley Cooper, Colleen Cox, Benjamin Entner, Gary Glinski, Scott Hotaling, Metroland production manager Kim Hugo, Gina Occhiogrosso (who also has a show at Hudson’s Nicole Fiacco Gallery), Catherine Quinones-Austin, G.G. Roberts, Denise Saint-Onge and RFW. The reception is tomorrow (Aug. 6) from 6-8 PM. Call 462-4775 for info.

INSIDE THE RINGS It’s all about sound at Grand Street Community Arts this Saturday (Aug. 7), as they host The Conquest of Saturn, a daylong festival of audio art, at their HQ in the former St. Anthony’s Church (68 Grand St., Albany). From noon to 6 PM, a program of surround sound (5.1) artworks will be presented as “cinema in the dark.” The program lasts 110 minutes, and will be repeated three times. Wander in when you will. From 7 PM until “late night,” there will be an improvised acoustic music show featuring Ed Bear, Lea Bertucci, Michael Peters and Tianna Kennedy. Admission is free. For complete info, visit free103point9.org/ events/2386.

LIVE CREATIVELY Aside from being sound advice, “live creatively” is the theme of Saratoga Arts’ first ever event for Saratoga First Night. They are looking for “installation and visual artists to help transform the streets of Saratoga into an open, public art space. . . . The goal is for those who attend to be an integral part of the creative experience as much as possible.” Hint: Think “ephemeral” and “not expensive.” Please submit your ideas to firstnightinfo@saratoga arts.org, or mail your proposals to Saratoga Arts, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs NY, 12866. Call 584-4132 for more info.

HOP ON THE BUS, GUS? It’s the 40th anniversary of the creation of CDTA, aka the Capital District Transportation Authority. [Editor’s note to CDTA: Happy Birthday!] To celebrate, CDTA is holding a YouTube video contest, and they have invited the “public to submit their own video demonstrating how CDTA services have made a positive difference in their lives or within our community.” [Another editor’s note to CDTA: I rely on the No. 3 Quail Street Belt route; it’s great.] The winner, judged by public voting, CDTA and peeps from the Ballston Spa Film Festival, will win a $300 Best Buy gift card. For contest rules, deadlines and guidelines visit cdta.org.

PICTURES WANTED Hold on; this is a very specific request. Were you at Sting’s SPAC performance on July 31? Did you see the belly dancer who performed during “Desert Rose?” Well, that was Capital Region dancer- choreographer-teacher Habiba (aka Donna Marie Tritico), who got a last-minute call from Sting’s people and was hired to dance for this, the last show of the tour. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have any pics of her performance on the SPAC stage . . . and would like some. If you were there and happened to take some iPhone pics or whatever, please contact Habiba at habiba@popstar.com or bellydance albany.weebly.com.

—Shawn Stone

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