As readers of River Journal have long known, our River Towns enjoy a rich artistic population. Writers, painters, musicians and other talented folk exist in all our neighborhoods, and there’s an organization that exists exclusively to nurture this local creativity and share it in the community. That organization is RiverArts, currently celebrating its 60th anniversary.
Founded in April 1963 as a non-profit artists’ collective, RiverArts came into being when a group of artists who had moved out of New York City to raise their families settled in Hastings-on-Hudson and sought a way to network and connect with like-minded creatives. “The Hastings Creative Arts Council Inc., as it was originally called, was established as a non-profit,” says Josh Suniewick, current executive director, “and its first act was to approach a world-renowned artist then resident in Hastings, Jacques Lipschitz.” The resulting bronze sculpture, titled Between Heaven and Earth, still sits in the village, between the municipal building and the public library.
For many years a purely volunteer organization, it rebranded itself as RiverArts in the 1990s and moved on from being a salon for artists, adding programming and spreading out to Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, Ardsley, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. Its arts education programs were early developments, the music program and SummerArts camp still active today. Doug Coe came on board as first executive director in 2013 and continued the organization’s expansion.
“Nowadays our twin tentpole events are the annual Studio and Music Tours, and both are free,” Suniewick continues. The Studio Tour, in early November, is the weekend during which we can visit artists in the many studios, galleries and other display spaces throughout the catchment area. Some 85 to 90 artists participate, located on maps to allow for easy travel and connection.
The Music Tour, on the first Saturday in June, works similarly for the wealth of local musicians who register their bands to play that day in churches, public spaces, even private residences. Last year 41 locations were available, featuring 95 bands, 350 musicians and every genre – another great opportunity for local talent to be shared with the world.
But there’s more. The annual dance concert is a high point and just took place in Tarrytown, featuring the Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE company. Other events like drama table readings, conversations, and concerts are spread as widely as possible through the River Towns from Hastings to Sleepy Hollow with the intent of building community through the arts. The SummerArts Program is a multi-art day camp in August for third- through ninth graders looking for a creative outlet. The Chamber Music series is a three-concert program spread across the villages. And a new music series called Channels is designed to introduce more contemporary, edgier sounds to a younger, perhaps newly-arrived audience. “The idea is to help the community to grow,” comments Suniewick.
Then there’s the Conversation series. “It epitomizes what we’re here to do, putting artistic people together to discuss their craft and offering an opportunity for audience enrichment. We’re always looking for new and interesting ideas to boost the River Towns communities,” Suniewick comments, as RiverArts looks ahead to decades more of creative input.