3 Women Powerhouses in the Hudson Valley Arts Scene | Visual Art | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
click to enlarge 3 Women Powerhouses in the  Hudson Valley Arts Scene
Photo by Josh Goleman
Stef Halmos in the Bookhouse of the Foreland campus

Last summer I experienced a solid dose of outrageous art and memorable exhibitions at several art organizations around the region, inspiring this profile on the work of three women and locations in particular: Laurie de Chiara, cofounder of ArtPort Kingston; Stef Halmos, founder of Foreland; and Helen Toomer, founder of Stoneleaf Retreat and Upstate Art Weekend. Teeming with creative energy and artistic connectivity, the Hudson Valley is the creative place to be and women especially are leading the way in the ever-expanding arts scene. Chronogram is pleased to shine a light on the contributions of these three powerhouse arts professionals who are deeply committed to their communities.

The Activator: Laurie de Chiara

A native of New York City, Laurie de Chiara is the cofounder of ArtPort Kingston and a seasoned leader in the arts. She relocated to Kingston in 2015 and the trajectory of her international career includes having worked at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, running her own gallery in Manhattan, and organizing numerous shows and artistic collaborations in Berlin during her 13 years as a resident there. "What can I add?" was the first question de Chiara asked herself upon arriving in the Hudson Valley. Since then, she has taken bold steps to realize her vision. She established de Chiara Projects, a platform for artistic projects and opportunities.

When she found a massive building—used as a storage site for PT boats—on Kingston's waterfront, she knew it was her mission to activate the building and the space inside. Her goal from the start of ArtPort Kingston has been to gather people together around art. De Chiara takes a strong curatorial angle with the shows presented at ArtPort Kingston and she considers "art as inclusive experience" to be paramount. De Chiara notes the invaluable input of the people who have been here their whole lives combined with the influx of those who moved to the Hudson Valley over the last 30 years. She considers the region to be an exciting territory that's also a relaxed environment, where folks can take time to linger and experience art without pretense.

ArtPort Kingston already boasts a packed annual schedule (two shows, "Over Under Sideways Down" and Jacinta Bunnell's "Latchkey Latch Hook Township" are on view through March 26), yet the big news is their upcoming Midtown Kingston expansion. ArtPort Kingston is growing to incorporate a new art venture and it's currently in the process of creating a multi-functional arts and cultural center in the vibrant district of Midtown Kingston anchored by hub art gallery to include surrounding support structures for artist studios, pop-up events/performances venues, outdoor eateries in adaptable modular structures plus live/work artist residency with integrated affordable units for creative community driven vision (all on track to open later this year).

The Artist/Developer: Stef Halmos

Like many artists looking to maximize space on a budget, Stef Halmos's hunt for a studio in the greater New York area brought her to the Hudson Valley. Hailing from a family of real estate developers with an eye for rehab and revitalization, she fell in love with an antiquated mill on the river in Catskill and purchased the building and surrounding environs in 2017.

She devoted a year and a half into transforming the massive 85,000-square-foot locale into what is now Foreland: a sprawling campus with three historic buildings that include exhibition spaces, artist's studios, and offices designed for art-making, seasonal public programming, cultural partnerships, private events, and other specially curated projects. Commenting on Foreland's special ethos, Halmos considers it to be "a microcosm of the bigger American ecosystem: all sorts of people, economics, and ideology in a very small town, trying to navigate an unknown future. People are unafraid to voice their concerns."

Despite being the visionary behind the Foreland concept—and incurring the necessary expenses to remodel the location into the magnificent infrastructure that it is today— Halmos takes strength from the insight and integrity of the "people who have spent their lives investing in the betterment of the Hudson Valley." Considering the region to be a place where "people take big risks," she comments, there is no doubt that Foreland simultaneously emboldens the local art scene while contributing to the larger profile of the global art sphere. Halmos's desire to cultivate a welcoming environment for the creative community that has coalesced at Foreland is reflected in the remarkable roster of professionals who spend time there. Current studio tenants are a veritable Who's Who of the local art scene. To name a few: Nicole Cherubini, Marc Swanson, Zia Anger, Laleh Khorramian, and Sky Hopinka. Foreland is now accepting applications for its "Kunsthalle," a 6,000-square-foot culture hall that will be part of Foreland's programming for 2023 Upstate Art Weekend.

The Organizer: Helen Toomer

As an avid arts organizer, supporter of the arts, and the founder of the Upstate Art Weekend (UAW), Helen Toomer's desire to foster greater connections among art organizations and artists in the Hudson Valley is a testimony to her generous spirit. Having realized its third run in 2022, Upstate Art Weekend has witnessed an enthusiastic response from the local art community, with over 145 participants last year including regional organizations such as Dia:Beacon, Storm King, and Art Omi. This year, UAW aims to keep the momentum over four days (July 21-24) with a robust program currently in development.

click to enlarge 3 Women Powerhouses in the  Hudson Valley Arts Scene
Photo by Tonje Thilesen
Helen Toomer

Toomer's original goal with the Upstate Art Weekend concept was merely to connect the dots between arts in our region. A native of England, Toomer moved to New York City in 2007 and lived there for a decade. During that time, she was involved in organizing art fairs, exhibitions, and special events among other professional collaborations. In 2016, she and her husband, Eric Romano, were priced out of Brooklyn and they started looking for something upstate. Within a year they had purchased land and opened the Stoneleaf Retreat in the Catskills, an artist residency and creative space for women/womxn and their families.

Since 2017, Stoneleaf Retreat has hosted 44 artists (including nine artists with children in a family residency capacity), offering studio space and a serene setting for residents to experience what they need for the duration of their stay. Toomer describes Stoneleaf and the surrounding nature there as a "gift to share with artists" and she wholeheartedly believes in the "value of the in-between time" as necessary for artist's sense of self amid the demands of contemporary family life. Toomer says that she feels she has lived 100 lives already, "yet the thread among all those incarnations has been art and artists."

Taliesin Thomas

Taliesin Thomas, PhD, is a writer, lecturer, and artist-philosopher based in Troy, NY.
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