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The Wassaic Project

The Wassaic Project

by Rachel Louchen

The quiet, bucolic hamlet of Wassaic isn’t the first place you would think of for avant-garde mixed media art but since 2008 the Wassaic Project has revitalized and engaged the entire community, creating not just art exhibitions but an experience.

The project offers summer-long programming featuring exhibits by resident artists with programs and events held the last Saturday of each month. The Summer Festival, held this year on August 1st - 3rd, jam packs a diverse variety of art and activities over the course of the weekend, including visual art, music, dance and film screenings from over 100 artists. Most notable of all, it's entirely free.

The project was born from the creative minds of Co-Executive Directors Bowie Zunino, Eve Biddle, and Jeff Barnett-Winsby, all artists who's passion to bring culture to their beloved hamlet has seen the first festival six years ago with 500 attendees grow to an annual event with 4,000 guests. “Creating excitement and activity is central to our mission of community redevelopment," notes Barnett-Winsby.

The uniqueness of the project is just how it much it encompasses the entire community: the Wassaic Project isn’t located in Wassaic, it is Wassaic. Art is visible indoors and out, it is seen and heard, performed and created by townsfolk and business owners. No better example of this is the transformation of the old Maxon Mills Grain Elevator, once a staple of the then-bustling community in the late 1800's but mostly unused since the 1970s when freight service ended, forever changing the community. Now, it holds Seeing the Sky, the Wassaic Project’s seventh annual summer exhibition, which covers seven floors with sculptures, paintings, videos and photos, each totally unique and evoking, with far-spanning pastoral views from every window.

Contemporary art housed in historic buildings are another interesting component of the Wassaic Project, presenting the latest and most innovative works of art while highlighting the history of the town and repurposing inactive buildings. Biddle notes that the architecture was “the initial impetus for coming to Wassaic – it was totally inspiring." The Wassaic House Hotel, built in the 1850s is an artist studio, exhibition space and office while The Luther Barn (circa 1875) has also been transformed into a film screening area and performance venue. The barn is special for its many artist studio spaces located in the area that used to hold livestock, the hay long replaced by art equipment and materials.

This year's festival promises to be just as exciting and compact with activities as previous years, with highlights including a screening of Fort Tilden, winner of the Grand Jury Award at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival, performances by The Suzan and Mira Cook (amongst many others), food provided by local purveyors and, of course, eye-catching art. A trip to Wassaic is well worth it.

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