BY SARA GILBERT
The Garnerville Arts Center announced at a meeting on Thursday, May 24 that it was added to the Preservation League of New York State’s “Seven to Save” list and would be working with local politicians, businesses and community members to rebuild the center. It also announced its first grant to begin the process, for $3,000.
In the summer of 2011, the Minisceongo Creek overflowed during Hurricane Irene and forced water through the complex, damaging the main gallery and many of the studios.
“This site is emblematic of New York locations damaged by last year’s storm,” said Jay DiLorenzo, the president of the Preservation League. The Preservation League is a nonprofit founded in 1974 that invests in people and projects that preserve community revitalization, sustainable economic growth and the protection of New York’s historic buildings and landscapes.
“The Garnerville Arts Center is one of those special and meaningful places,” said DiLorenzo.
The complex was built in 1828 on the site of a former 1760s grist mill and was called the Garner Print Works. It closed briefly during the depression but re-open in the 1930’s as the Garnerville Holding Company. In the 1990’s it began to make space for artists, and over time more than 50 artists established studios there. It started as a nonprofit, but was incorporated in 2003. Since then, it has sponsored the Garnerville Arts Center through events, festivals, teaching and galleries.
According to the president of the arts center, Robin Rosenberg, “Before Hurricane Irene stuck we were thriving, and we instantly became a mere shadow of what we once were. There was a huge sense of loss in the community.”
Being put on the Seven to Save list and receiving this first grant “are the first steps to getting back,” she said. “I really want to thank the League for coming to see us and the commitment we have to arts and culture.”
DiLorenzo discussed how thriving arts centers like this one brings in tourists, money and a true sense of community. In fact, according to studies done by the Preservation League, “for every dollar put in, seven dollars are earned,” he said.
And Rosenberg agreed that a center like this one is not just good for bringing art and culture to the area, but it also increases the value of homes and lowers taxes. It brings people to the area and money to local businesses.
“Without this help, this wonderful gallery would fall into the abyss,” Rosenberg said. “We need to help out on all levels.”
Congresswoman Nita Lowey said she would work with the center to make sure they receive some federal funding.
“We can’t forget who we are, even while watching the debt,” Lowey said. “I assure you, I will make sure funding gets here.”
She recognized how important it is to save the complex. “Maintaining these buildings keep the character of Haverstraw alive,” Lowey said.
New York State Senator David Carlucci and New York State Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski were responsible for creating a grant fund, according to Rosenberg.
“Through the tragedy of Hurricane Irene we can have a renewed sense of optimism… a wonderful rebirth,” said Zebrowski, who recalled all the times he visited the complex for programs, festivals, art openings and nature walks.
Town of Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips agrees that the complex is about the unique people and events. “It’s not about the brick and mortar – it’s about the culture, activities and work that goes on here. It has the potential to be a cultural center for all of Rockland.”
Like Lowey’s promise to help, the Village of West Haverstraw’s mayor, John Ramundo, promised, “It will stay alive, as long as I’m here. I promise that!”
Rosenberg admitted “measures to prevent future flooding need to be discussed.” And as soon as they “get the go-ahead” they will begin the process.
The plan is to turn the cafeteria building into the main gallery, according to James Tyler, the center’s executive director.
“Yes, we are a little beaten down. We’re an arts center without a building, but not without a home. Because this complex will always be our home and these artists here are our community and are dedicated. And when we’re up and running, we’ll be back better than ever.
“As we rebuild we will focus on our roots and history,” said Tyler. “I look forward to a beautiful and wonderful future.”
Rosenberg closed the speeches with thanking everyone and a reminder to “stay with us!”