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Spinning straw into gold

February 16, 2012

By Julie Courtney and Jennie Shanker

In any region that has been experiencing hard economic times, it is all too easy to look at abandoned lots and deteriorating buildings and see nothing but symptoms of decay, problems to be shunned or screened from public view. A developer’s solution would involve removing all evidence, starting fresh from the ground up. Yet to those who see the integrity and character of the original structure, such a solution is unthinkable. Often, artists are the ones willing to commit to the revival of the inherent potential of a place, allowing it to express itself anew, transforming something seen as a scar, a burden, or an embarrassment into something distinctive and inspiring.

CENTERpieces is a new cultural initiative that we are curating in this region that embodies this spirit. The intent is to recognize the value of the history and culture embedded in the area’s dilapidated structures, and to offer artists opportunities to convert derelict buildings and empty lots into artworks and gathering places. These transformed sites will fascinate, educate, integrate and create community, vitality and tourism in this underserved region of the Catskills.

With the intent to commission several multi-year projects over time, CENTERpieces will be a kind of sculpture park. Instead of presenting works on a single plot of land, projects will dot sites throughout the region. The potential benefits are not only artistic or social, but economic. This new string of sites could be a tour route to stream visitor traffic—a connective tissue between numerous destinations in the region.

Our debut project, Richard Torchia’s “Harris Observatory,” will open this weekend (see page 18 for hours). Our host, The Center for Discovery, invited us to make use of a geodesic dome originally constructed from a kit in 1984. Now scheduled for demolition, the dome building still embodies the visionary commitment to green architecture that remains one of The Center’s hallmarks, and furthers its commitment to help improve life in the community.