Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The heart of the arts in Rockland

May/June 2010 issue

Rockland Center
for the Arts
Where the art of the big picture
is always on display

By Paul Clark
Writer, Managing Editor

At Rockland Center for the Arts, one good thing always leads to another. The cutting-edge work of artists from Rockland and beyond creates a steady stream of contemporary expression. That, in turn, provides rich and timely prospects for fresh, original exhibits and performances. All of which leads naturally to educational opportunities for everyone of every age to experience the thrill of creativity for themselves.

Maintaining that seamless, ongoing connection between art itself and education for all is the prime directive at RoCA. And it’s reflected in everything it does. Outdoors among the landscapes and trees, the center’s Catherine Konner Sculpture Park provides equal measures of time and space for absorbing the textural emotions of large-scale forms. Indoors, a wall-to-wall vibe of new and compelling colors, shapes, vantage points and rhythms reverberates in galleries and media project spaces. At the same time, the enthusiastic voices of students and teachers in studio/classrooms are proof positive that the power and promise of art is alive and well. And in very good hands.

“It’s all a lot of work and a lot of fun,” says Executive Director Julianne Ramos, who came to RoCA right out of graduate school 25 years ago, and to this day enjoys the combination of art and business that her job entails. “One of the strongest, advantages we have,” she explains, “is that we’re not a museum. We have no permanent collections to store and care for. We’re a contemporary, non-collecting entity with tremendous flexibility to respond quickly to changes and shifts in the art environment — what interests people now, and what’s important to the community.”

Ensuring a smart, even flow of new art for exhibitions and programs is essential to everything RoCA does, and Artistic Director Lynn Stein is the one who makes it happen. An accomplished artist, performer and marketer in her own right, she sets and maintains standards for everything that’s shown, seen and heard.

Over the last 10 years she has expanded RoCA’s energetic repertoire and well-earned reputation for quality to include a spirited variety of live music and dance, as well as digital, video and audio art. She spends a good deal of time traveling to see who and what’s out there, and investigating proposals for potential exhibits and shows. “We want to attract a wide range of artists, nationally and locally, to show a lot of different thinking,” she says, “but it’s also important that what we bring in — wherever it comes from or how good it is — also provides enough substance to form the basis for education.”

Looking forward, Stein is working busily on an imaginative series of exhibits and videos involving new looks at ceramics, sculpture and urban life and structures, and for the first time in over 12 years, live performances of jazz. “We try to move things a little toward the edge, but still keep it interesting and accessible for everyone. We’re not in the business of pushing people’s buttons,” she laughs, “but we do want them to think.”

Instilling the process of artistic thought is important. And a recent exhibit of contemporary photography provided the perfect opportunity for a group of high school students to think through and experience photography for themselves. “The kids toured the exhibit and studied the photos,” explains Daly Flanagan, RoCA’s School Director. “We talked about subjects, composition and all the other things photographers think about.” Then, working in teams, they composed and took pictures of themselves and each other.”

Instructors then put their shots in a public show called The Portrait Project, and invited everyone, including parents, relatives and friends, to see. “For the students,” she says,“ it came full circle. First they were looking at photographs, then they were the photographs. They learned a lot, and it made them all very proud.”

Over the course of a year Flanagan, who is also a teacher specializing in visual arts, painting and printmaking, manages over 30 teachers and 100 courses and workshops in everything from drawing, painting and fine arts, to ceramics, jewelry and creative writing for adults, teens and kids. She also conducts regular seminars and training for art teachers from schools throughout Rockland County.

In the summer months, RoCA’s renowned Summer Camp teaches and encourages the budding creativity of 200 children ages 5 through 12. Amy Alinkofsky, who worked for several years as a counselor and music teacher, is now the Camp Director and takes full advantage of the studios, classrooms and rich artistic atmosphere that the center provides. “I love working with kids,” Alinkofsky says, “and who knows how something they learn here today will affect our perception of the world a few years from now?”

Of course, without adequate funding, none of these exhibits, performances or programs would be possible, especially in today’s tight economy. Peter Dalto, Development Director, is feeling the squeeze and, needless to say, he’s a busy man these days. It’s his job to raise funds through grant writing, community memberships and tuition, individual donors, corporate and private foundation gifts, and government funds. There’s a lot more asking, and a lot more ‘no’s’ these days,” he admits. “But,” he adds assuredly, “we’re holding our own. You just have to state your case and make sure you’re heard in terms of the things that the arts mean to people. We’re a 63-year-old organization. And a lot of successful people out there got their first exposure to art here. If we’re going to get out of the economic turmoil were in right now, as well as other turmoil around the world, it’s going to take a lot of creative thought. And that’s a big part of what goes on RoCA.”

Finding, funding and presenting good art and making it all work on different levels is no simple task. But thanks to the experience and foresight of the donors, directors, board of directors, teachers and staff at Rockland Center for the Arts, they make it work every day, and make it look easy. “We may appear small in the scheme of things,” says Julianne Ramos, “but we’re a flexible, fresh and high-quality multi-arts center with a lot of good people and lot of good things going on for everyone. In that sense,” she smiles, “we’re not small at all.”

For more information about exhibits, performances, classes and more, go to rocklandartcenter.org

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