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The Deep Power of Rural Life

Ten years ago, the Catskill Art Society (CAS) -- then a 35-year-old amorphous support group for local artists -- moved from Hurleyville to Livingston Manor to become more of a brick and mortar arts establishment on Main Street. They found their home at 48 Main Street, an old movie theater, newly renovated with bamboo floors and good lighting, where they could display local art and bring the community together. Today, CAS, which aims to "present multi arts of, by and for the community," is beginning a new chapter and plans to bring a community of locals, weekenders and Catskill newbies along with them.

With a loyal membership rooted in local artist circles and some star artist installations on the horizon -- most notably James Turrell, an artist dedicated to the presentation of light in space -- CAS has a tall order to fill. To do that, CAS has hired Sally Wright, who spent three years at the DIA Art Foundation drinking in the philosophy, steeping herself in contemporary art and building a community of supporters. DIA, as she puts it, "allows everyone to feel like an expert." It is this depth that Sally hopes to bring to CAS, to Livingston Manor and to the Catskills, which is sure to draw art enthusiasts and connoisseurs to add to its burgeoning renaissance.  First off, as the only full-time employee with the responsibility of fundraising for a renovated space in which to house Turrell's installation and the desire to deepen the connection to all the art it presents, Wright will begin by reducing the show schedule from twelve to four a year. She is quick to point out that less is, in fact, more. More programming. More education. More engagement. More value. More exciting. 

In talking with Sally and with David Barnes, CAS's President, you are quick to understand how much value they place on CAS's history, its current community and the people who have worn CAS as their personal badge for years. Sally, a weekender-turned-local, and David are also focused on the future and a complex, multi-circle Venn diagram where past, present and future intersect seamlessly with high art, a local art tradition and with both rural and urban sensibilities. Sound impossible? Kinda. But, in their first steps, in a grand gesture with a few key ingredients, they are putting their money where their mouths are. Starting July 1st and continuing through September 4th, CAS is presenting their multi arts of, by and for the community with depth and heart in their first Rural Life Festival. 

The Festival's centerpiece, in their second annual Invitational Show, is artist Lavern Kelley (1928-98), an accidental "outsider artist" from Oneonta whose pocketknife-carved recreations of farm equipment and vehicles conveys a deep connection to the farm, to a local history and to a movement of artists like Thomas Hart Benton who brought American farm life to a spotlighted stage. With Kelley and the impressive array of films, readings, exhibitions and performances, rural life has never been so deftly celebrated. It asks you to get closer to the rural history. It begs you to see yourself in it, whether you are a local farmer or a city dweller stepping in for the weekend. It invites you to know the area, the people and to become a part of it in your own way. And if you are so inspired, it gives you the license to pick up your own pen or penknife and to create your own version.

To any of you who know me (personally or through this blog), I am sure it is evident how much I love rural life. My full-time neighbors are some of my favorite people in the world; I love their wisdom and ingenuity, their kindness and utter joy in laughing at the trouble I get myself into. Having one toe in the Catskills and another in New York City is a recipe for a vibrant life. Nothing is more beautiful than watching the fog dance off my pond in the early morning, nor than hearing Summertime with operatic brilliance under the glittering lights of a Leo Villareal installation in Chelsea on a weekday evening. I think we all crave this dichotomy, whether we know it or not. The Pitchforkwas, in essence, founded on the idea that the stories that unfold here are fascinating, funny and inspiring and, more importantly, bring us together.

I am a relative newcomer to CAS, previously thinking that I get my art fix from the city and my farm fix from the country. But that is no longer the case. CAS is blurring the lines, bringing urban and rural together, bringing art -- in all its forms -- to an integrated audience where we can get to know one another better as we dive in. We are, city girl and farm girl, invited to become experts together and to share our unique perspectives with one another around a common theme.

I hope you will all make a point of joining the Rural Life Festival this summer. I am honored to participate, as a recipient of all its riches -- poetry readings, music, photography and artist talks -- and also as a presenter. On Friday night, July 21st at 5 pm, Chris Jones, a Downsville local I am proud to call my friend (and beekeeping mentor), and I will welcome the community at the Laundry King (65 Main Street in Livingston Manor) to talk bees, beekeeping and how local efforts are addressing a global problem. Will be bring our bee suits? Sure. Honey? Yup. A passion for our joint effort to save the bees, one hive at a time? You betcha.

CAS's new era is upon us. And CAS invites you to be a part of the community in myriad ways. They want you in their art scene. They want you to come and learn. They want your vote for their future. There is much to talk about, much to cover, but it's best for you to come and see it for yourself.

Digging in, xoxo Farm Girl

PS  Information about the Rural Life Festival exhibitions and other programming can/will be found here. And save the date for CAS's annual gala at the Beaverkill Valley Inn on Friday, July 28th. Your presence and support for CAS is most welcome!

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