If you haven’t yet visited Ossining’s Bethany Arts Community (BAC), make some space on your calendar. Since incorporating in 2015, the locally focused non-profit has launched arts programming— exhibits, classes, and performances— on its expansive campus, as well as short-term residencies for artists of almost every medium. Owner David Lyons founded BAC with the intention to make art accessible to local residents while bridging communities within Ossining and Westchester.
“He had this vision of creating an arts community where artists of all levels would come, and then also interact with the community, whether that was teaching a class or a workshop, giving a performance or a talk,” said Executive Director Abigail Lewis. ”So you’d have this real intermingling of artists, of all disciplines and all levels, and the local community.”
BAC operates out of a 44,000-square-foot building set on 25 acres of tranquil wooded grounds and a sculpture garden along Somerstown Road (Route 133). The building dates back to the 1920s, when it was used by the Maryknoll Foreign Mission Sisters of St. Dominic (and was known as Bethany Rest House). The former chapel has been converted into a performance venue, and an accompanying dormitory built in the 1950s acts as studios, living space for residents, and an instructional wing. The unique atmosphere creates a special mood for both the artists in residence and the art that is displayed and performed there.
After Lyons purchased the property, BAC’s first initiatives kicked off in 2018, with choreographer Bill T. Jones in residency. It hosted more residencies in 2019 until the pandemic hit, grinding all the new momentum to a halt. With COVID protocols in place, residencies are now back in full swing, and visitors can wander the sculpture gardens, take in rotating exhibits, and attend limited-ticket events.
Tapping into its community-first model, the gallery exhibits come together through partnerships with area organizations. BAC recently collaborated with Ossining Arts Council and have plans for future exhibits with New York State Art Teachers Association and Katonah Arts Museum.
Within Ossining proper, youth-centered community outreach programs have taken off, such as an afterschool program (that provides local scholarships). In April, the center worked with the Ossining Children’s Center for a poetry month project that was displayed in the gallery, and also teamed up with 100cameras and Westchester County Safe Harbor for a photography program that is still accessible via a virtual exhibits page (bethanyarts.org.100cameras).
Children’s programming is key to the center’s mission. Lewis noted that at its core, one of BAC’s central beliefs is that “access to arts at a very early age and the ability to create and enjoy the process of creation itself without fear will create better, happier, healthier future generations.”
Along with virtual and in-person exhibits and classes, visitors can stroll the garden and indoor spaces (while masked) during visiting hours, and emerging artists can find upcoming courses and resources all year long. To learn more, visit bethanyarts.org.