It’s hard to resist metaphors associated with fruitfulness when contemplating current developments at the 1908 orangerie on the Rockefeller estate, in Pocantico. What was once a vast winter citrus greenhouse is being converted, at significant expense, into the David Rockefeller Creative Arts Center (or DR Center), an environmentally-sustainable performance and exhibition space offering fertile ground for accessible, high-quality arts involvement.
The arts center is a new addition to the Pocantico Center, which has been hosting arts events since 2012, often in the summer when the weather is more amenable to performances in the fresh air. And it has also offered lectures, symposiums and artist residencies, with accommodation in guest houses and the Marcel Breuer House, all part of the Rockefeller Brothers Funds’ mission to celebrate the arts and the creative process.
But with the development of the orangerie, that mission takes a significant step forward. “We will be doubling our performances, from four to eight per year, and presenting them all year round, with the use of this dedicated space. No more worries about rain dates,” says Elly Weisenberg Kelly, manager of public programs and residencies at the Pocantico Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
“And we’ll be working much more closely with community groups, responding to their needs and what they are looking for,” she continues, detailing the outreach done during the pandemic, talking to schools and other local community groups, not just in Ossining, Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, but Elmsford, Peekskill, Port Chester, Mount Kisco, and beyond.
New visual artist residencies and community arts residencies will be awarded at the new center, enlarging both engagement and the opportunity for talkback, in which the artistic process is explained and shared with the audience. And transportation will be offered to those in the region who do not have access to a vehicle, to amp up accessibility and address the limited public transportations options within Westchester to Pocantico.
The facilities within the orangerie certainly invite visits and participation. The building has been updated into a vast, modern, flexible space featuring four separate areas within its golden, pebble-dashed original exterior. A gathering space at the main entrance leads into the performance space which is blessed with retractable seating for 196 and pivoting doors allowing exterior seating in fine weather. As well as a studio workspace, there will be a gallery, expanding access to the Center’s visual arts collection and allowing temporary exhibitions for the first time. It will host its inaugural exhibition – called Inspired Encounters – from October 1. “Entrance will be free, all you’ll need to do is register and reserve a time slot,” Kelly explains.
The cost of attending events at Pocantico has never approached metropolitan prices, but at least until recently it was hard not to see the location as a place of privilege. “The goal of the new DR Center is to disrupt that narrative,” Kelly says.
The Center’s first program of events will be available by the end of the summer, clarifying perhaps those plans for disruption. Prior to that, an all-Spanish Story Collider event in July might be one indicator of change.
While the building opens formally on October 1, visitors will have a better opportunity to see the center on October 15, when it holds a community open house, a 3-hour event from 1-4, offering an opportunity to walk around, visit the artist-in-residence’s open studio and enjoy a short live performance.
“And in May 2023, we’ll have the first of our annual community days,” Kelly says, “featuring both the indoor and outdoor spaces, music, a wide array of arts activities, food trucks and more.”
Outside, across from the solar panels, rain garden, school garden and patio, among a collection of plants destined for the arts center grounds, stand three small potted orange trees. These three stalwarts will winter in the updated orangerie, connecting the original function of a grand old edifice to its new fecundity. The DR Center brims with intriguing potential.