Foreland, an arts complex with big ambitions, is growing in Catskill

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CATSKILL, NY — When artist Stef Halmos moved to New York in 2012 with an MFA, she tried unsuccessfully to find a decent, affordable studio. “The sprinklers weren’t working, there was no natural light, there was a curtain for a door – that’s what you would get,” Halmos said. “I just knew I could do better.” He helped have a family in the real estate business.

With the support and mentorship of her father, Fort Lauderdale-based developer Steve Halmos, the young artist began exploring the boroughs in search of a warehouse to renovate into studios for herself and her peers. The search eventually led her to the Hudson Valley, following in the footsteps of so many artists who migrated from the city in search of a better all-round offering.

While eating an ice cream cone by a stream with his wife, McKenzie Raley, an artist and doula, Halmos spotted a beautiful boarded-up mill towering on the Catskill shoreline across the water. . “I fell in love with it,” said Halmos, who persuaded its owner, Rob Kalin, an Etsy founder who hadn’t moved forward with plans for the property, to sell it to him in 2017. not what a mess it was.

Halmos spent 18 months structurally stabilizing the red-brick giant, which made Union Army uniforms during the Civil War and had been vacant since 2005, when Oren’s Furniture closed after 86 years there.

Last month, the 38-year-old artist-developer completed renovations to the last of three adjacent industrial buildings totaling 85,000 square feet, creating a triangular art complex she has named Foreland. It will open July 1 with a month-long series of gallery exhibitions in the village of Catskill (once the home of Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of Landscape Painters).

The $12.5 million project was funded primarily by the family business, Halmos Holdings, with $1.5 million in New York State grants for historic restoration and waterfront revitalization. It includes 31 individual private artist studios, a co-op workspace, four public galleries, a restaurant, and event spaces available for hire. Halmos worked with Emily Jockel of David Bers Architecture and Liam Turkle to design the spaces.

Halmos led a visitor through his business venture with the pride of a new mother (she gave birth to her first child during construction and his wife is now expecting their second). She named her project after the geological term for a cliff abutting water – the reflection she saw of the mountain mill in the stream. “I realized I’m kind of on the cliff,” Halmos said.

She has now rented all the studios to artists including Native American filmmaker Sky Hopinka, and painters Laleh Khorramian and Steve Locke, with a growing waiting list. Halmos directly reached out to woo famed photographer Lyle Ashton Harris, who she knew lived nearby Germantown.

“It was a courtship,” said Harris, who loves the aura of the past in his Foreland studio, equipped with air conditioning and the internet but retaining an industrial brutality. “There is diversity in the artists who come here. Stef cultivates a certain community, without it being forced.

A studio is fully subsidized for an annual six-month fellowship awarded to an outstanding color artist: Painter Henri Broyard was selected by a jury consisting of Halmos, Ebony Haynes, director of TriBeCa 52 Walker gallery and Lumi Tan, curator principal of The Cuisine. Broyard will have a solo exhibition from August 5 to September 25 in one of the public galleries on the ground floor of Foreland.

As part of the Foreland Gallery Coalition, the art center hosts month-long exhibitions that open Friday with Situations, New Discretions, Document and JAG Projects. For a monthly membership fee ranging from $385 to $550, dealers can use one of Foreland’s galleries for two months a year to expand their own programs without the upfront cost of an art fair, which can cost $20,000. $ or more.

“You show up, you put on your shows, you do your sales,” said Halmos, who provides a docent from his staff to help. Without a huge price tag, she says, “the selling pressure lessens and you can do shows that are maybe a little riskier.”

Sara Salamone, co-founder and director of Mrs. Gallery, was invited to collaborate on a group show with dealer Rachel Uffner as part of a trial run of Halmos’ coalition idea last summer. It overlapped with the New Art Dealer Alliance meeting, organized by Foreland, and the Upstate Art Weekend. “The foot traffic was incredible,” Salamone said. “It was a very economical way for us to participate in something upstate. We met a number of new customers who continued to support our program.

The crowds that have flocked to Foreland events over the past year have also paid off for Main Street in Catskill, which, like so many small towns, has suffered badly from the advent of big-box shopping, but is at again on the rise. “Store owners are very happy because Foreland is generating business,” said Marietta Fagan, longtime Catskill resident and barista at recently opened cafe and vintage store Citiot (the nickname for new people moving to the area, derived from “idiot city”). “Do you want to see a dead city,” asked Fagan, “or a flourishing city?”

When Mike Ragaini started as Catskill’s building inspector in 2006, bricks were falling from the old mill on Main Street and he had to hunt the previous owners to remedy the violations. “Stef turned this building into a beautiful structure,” said Ragaini, who remembers Catskill as a prosperous village in the 1950s and 1960s. While locals tend to complain that townspeople try to tell them how to run their city, he said, “Stef is down to earth. She somehow integrated into the local population.

Halmos joked that initially maybe not everyone was “super jazzed about a brassy lesbian coming to buy a massive building.” But after presenting her business model at town hall meetings, she felt the support of her neighbours. “They want to see their tax base expand,” she said. “They want to see their city’s infrastructure improved.”

Over the past five years, the median price of a single-family home in Catskill has climbed 77%. Ruth Adams, co-executive director of Art Omi in Ghent, has watched this trend across the Hudson Valley for two decades, exacerbated by people coming from the city during the pandemic. “A lot of local residents are worried about the cost of housing,” she said. “Their children cannot grow up and must necessarily own a house near them.”

Adams has seen Hudson, the sister city of Catskill across the river, become a magnet for artists and collectors, with arts organizations such as Basilica Hudson and Hudson Hall moving into repurposed spaces and dozens of antique shops and new stores popping up on Main Street. “Gentrification is the history of the arts,” she said. “The question is: what do you do with your space? Do you invite community, and is it really community at all layers and levels? »

Halmos began experimenting with outreach beyond the art world. Foreland subsidized the rent for painter Caitlin MacBride’s studio in exchange for the artist teaching a five-session self-portraiture course for people in Catskill, ages 12 and up. Halmos thinks of events that might appeal to college kids who pass by the building every day.

Ceramic artist Nicole Cherubini moved from Brooklyn to Hudson seven years ago and worked in seclusion in a barn before settling in one of Foreland’s 2,000 square foot corner studios last year with a magnificent view of the village, the mountains and the water. “I had been in Brooklyn for so long and missed knowing there were other artists working around me,” said Cherubini, who now meets people at Willa’s, her downstairs cafe. floor, and takes advantage of the Foreland mailing list for community posts.

“Community here is harder to find, just because we all live so far apart,” she said. “Foreland is like Stef’s giant social art project.”


foreland

Starting July 1, 361 Main Street and 111 Water Street, Catskill, NY; forelandcatskill.com. The current exhibitions run until July 24.

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