Monday, August 14, 2017

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Midtown arts district sparks 21st Century revival for Kingston


Giordano creating new art on an old press

KINGSTON – A growing art scene is blossoming in Midtown Kingston amid a stretch of empty and dilapidated storefronts often overlooked by Broadway commuters. The two-block strip of art galleries, collective workspaces, and hipster cafes, is quietly transforming stagnant blight into fresh revitalization.

Located across the street from Kingston’s cultural anchor, Ulster Performing Arts Center, the metamorphosis is difficult to pinpoint without a special map provided by Midtown Arts District – the city initiative which currently promotes guided neighborhood First Saturday art walks.

Most of the block remains dominated by storefront churches, hair studios, and other blue collar businesses. Blaring sirens of passing ambulances, fire engines, and cop cruisers punctuate the steady din of heavy traffic. This part of town, long ago, once saw better days.

Standing out like a bright yellow lollypop, however, is The Happy Spot, dedicated to promoting optimism through use of the color yellow. Giant smileys adorn the plate glass display, operated by UMEWE, Inc., a creative art organization. They deploy giddy round face billboards citywide.

Just one step away is another collective, currently named Department of Independent Art Workers, occupying a tiny gallery space, with adjacent instructional area, and career opportunities for aspiring artists. The effort sprung from similarly successful Pop-Up Gallery Group (PUGG) at nearby Kingston High School.

Inside, volunteer Lara Giordano displayed an antique Intaglio offset press, recently donated by the Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale. Taking advantage of free rent and utilities provided by a friendly landlord, she coordinates drawing, animation, and artist survival skills classes – all offered free to the public, so far. 

“We don’t have to charge a lot of money,” Giordano KHS art teacher said, noting that many materials are donated. “Most people don’t feel like they have access to the arts. One of the ways, is to provide some programming,” Giordano. Very few artists, as you know, make their living off their artwork.”

Other newcomers on the block include the Art Bar, a watering hole with mixed media gallery; Peace Nation Cafe, a cozy bistro with hidden garden accessible through the kitchen door; PAKT, another artsy restaurant opposite UPAC; plus the Broadway Commons tent franchise, atop the demolished King’s Inn motel site, where outdoor community celebrations take place.

Nearby, on Cedar Street, a proposed Energy Square project plans to house the expanded headquarters for Center for Creative Education (CCE), a progressive after-school youth program. An independent office for city Democrats opened last week on the corner of Cedar Street and Broadway, injecting more life to the area.

“This place is about as central to Kingston as you can get,” said state Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who considers Midtown to be the heart of town.

Mayor Steve Noble noted, “If you drive down Broadway today, it’s a different Broadway than a year and a half ago. You feel community, a true sense that people out on the street feel like they belong in Kingston.”

A complete streetscape overhaul is in the works, promising to make the area more bicycle and pedestrian friendly, culminating with a second traffic circle being built at the Midtown end of Colonel Chandler Drive – the two-mile I-587 spur to the New York State Thruway.

Further improvements to Midtown resources include a $150 million revamp of Kingston / Benedictine Hospitals under the banner of Health Alliance; a $137.5 million Kingston High School renovation; and $5 million conversion of Sofie Finn Elementary into a Midtown SUNY Ulster satellite campus.

Additionally, various warehouse spaces are witnessing various stages of conversion, including the Lace Mill and T-Shirt Factory buildings. A film production studio is currently being considered inside the abandoned insurance building along Greenkill Avenue next to the South Clinton Avenue Little League ball field.

Last but not least is the 721 Broadway media center, a privatized technological small business magnet, developed from the remains of a former TV station building.

 


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