A Conversation with Caroline Crumpacker, the ED of Opus 40 | Visual Art | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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A Conversation with Caroline Crumpacker, the ED of Opus 40 

click to enlarge Caroline Crumpacker of Opus 40
  • Caroline Crumpacker of Opus 40

The masterwork of artist Harvey Fite, Opus 40 is an astounding 6.5-acre bluestone sculpture and earth artwork amidst a sylvan setting in Saugerties. Breathtaking in scope and execution, the structure is carved from an existing quarry and built by hand to frame a view of Overlook Mountain.

In addition to the main sculpture, Opus 40 has 55 acres of meadows, paths, stone walls; and a gift shop, art gallery, and museum of Fite's tools. Last year, Caroline Crumpacker was hired as the first full-time executive director for Opus 40, heralding a new era for the National Historic Register site. We sat down with her to talk about future plans.

Opus 40 is open to the public May through November.

—Marie Doyon

You've come in at a pivotal moment in the history of Opus 40. What are some of your plans for the future?

Short term, we're just trying to give everything a lot of TLC. We're refreshing the buildings—resanding and staining floors, getting new furniture, building new shelves, and expanding the gift shop to have a focus on local and sustainable products. Outside, we're working with arborists and landscapers to nourish the trees.

I am also really focusing on community partnerships and creating more access to our space. There are a lot of people for whom the admission cost is a challenge. We're working with six different libraries to offer family memberships that people can check out like a book and come for free. We want everyone to feel seen and welcome.

What's planned for the Fite Gallery?

We have a nice season planned, including exhibitions by Kenji Fujita, Nicholas Kahn & Richard Selesnick, and Faheem Haider. And we'll probably be partnering with Radio Woodstock to do some music programming.

What are some of the long-term plans?

We are talking to funders about buying the Richards family house and converting it into a space that is part of Opus 40. [Tad Richards, Fite's stepson, still lives onsite with his wife.] We might turn it into a visitors center with spaces for workshops and possibly artist residencies. The idea is still being developed.

Opus 40 opens its season on May 18. What kind of season kickoff are you having?

We are hosting a free Community Day. Max's New Hat is going to play; the Farmers & Chefs food truck will be here; we'll be selling beer; there will be games for kids and chair massages.

In the '80s and '90s Opus 40 hosted some pretty big concerts, like the Orleans shows. Will you be doing anything like that?

This year, we're not doing any big blowouts like that. We are going to wait and see if that is a good role for us to fill in the area.

You worked at the Millay Colony for the Arts and other nonprofits. Tell me about your professional background.

I was the executive director at Millay for just over 12 years. It is totally fascinating how different that role was. Millay offered artist residencies, so the marketing focus was mostly national and to some degree international. Opus 40 gets a lot of out-of-town guests, but it is really woven into the local fabric, so there is a lot of community-based outreach. I am still getting to know people who are part of the cultural landscape. I also worked at Art Omi in Ghent as a consultant, and in the city, I worked at the Public Theater for six years.

How has that experience set you up for this job?

When I worked at the Public Theater, George Wolfe was the producer. I learned so much from his ethos of welcome: You invite everyone into your space really respectfully and deliberately, you don't just assume people feel included in what you're doing. He had a whole outreach department. I was doing government relations, and we would go out through five boroughs and tell people "We want to bring little showcase to Jamaica, Queens," or, "We want to offer you a block of tickets to give to your constituents." We did that year-round and in Spanish. A lot of nonprofits struggle with that question—how to create a place that everyone feels like they have some stake in, and not just some place that is too old, too white, too rich, or whatever.

click to enlarge Harvey Fite building Opus 40
  • Harvey Fite building Opus 40

What do you see as Opus 40's place in the Hudson Valley arts and culture scene?

Recently, the director of Unison Arts Center was talking a lot about the sustainability of nonprofits Upstate being developed along sharing lines. We can do things together that build a lot of options for the community, so that we're all part of a deep, complementary ecosystem. It's a noncompetitive model, which I love—we won't be reinventing the wheel six times over.

What project are you most excited about bringing to Opus 40?

I would love to develop the onsite educational opportunities—photography workshops, poetry workshops, drawing workshops. I am also working on a series of lesson plans for schools, so teachers can feel like visiting is manageable. There is an endless array of opportunities that are specific to Opus 40. It's not just bringing kids to a park; teachers can talk about economic history of the Hudson Valley, the biodiversity of the trees, and earth art and the Mayans. Classes can do soil analyses or research the history of the local quarrying industry.

The gallery inside the gift shop changes but Opus 40 itself is a static exhibit, you could say. How do you entice people to return?

If you are just coming to see the sculpture itself, once a year is plenty. That said, it changes a lot with seasons. In fall, it's a totally different aesthetic than spring. I also want people to be able to engage with whole property. It's nice to come and experience it as a park. If you get a season membership, you can go on a hike and take a picnic. Then you can check out art in the gallery, come see a concert or a theater piece. There are also so many nooks and crannies to that sculpture. Everytime I am on that structure, I find some new place to engage with.

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