Unison Opens “Joy” Amidst Relocation

Until Dec. 16, walking into New Paltz’s Unison Arts Center will surround you with joy. Unison opened their “Joy’’ exhibit on Nov. 19, collecting a variety of artworks all representing joy to the artists. The opening ceremony was their penultimate event before they move locations to 9 Paradise Lane in Spring 2024.

Unison Arts and Learning Center, currently located on 68 Mountain Rest Road, is a non-profit arts collective and educational space founded 47 years ago by Stuart Bigley and Peter Pitzele. Unison began as a school and was transformed into the cultural hub that it is today.

“It’s our last show at this space,” said Unison artistic director and SUNY New Paltz professor, Emilie Houssart. “To move locations is a really big deal for us, and I really wanted to honor that moment by inviting as many people into this space as possible and making it a moment of celebration.”

“Joy” is a love letter to Unison, its history and the local and artistic communities that it has always served. As such, “Joy” began with a free-to-submit open call for submissions of all mediums. Houssart accepted at least one piece from almost everyone who submitted. Some pieces were made specifically for the show.

“Joy looks very different for every single person and there’s also a lot of commonality,” said Houssart. “That is really exciting, both visually as a narrative for the show — how personal those interpretations are and how different they are — and also how there’s this connecting thread that pulls them all together.”

Decorating the walls of the Unison gallery are black-and-white photographs, vibrant and colorful paintings, 3-D artwork and more. Each artist was asked to describe how their pieces represented joy to them. Some works are clearly deeply personal, while others celebrate the joy of community, nature or life overall.

One piece that Houssart noted was a piece by Sergey Jivetin that was gifted to Unison for the exhibit, called “Transplanted.” Jivetin engraved the architecture for Unison’s new building onto three acorns from a tree located on the Mountain Rest Road property. The acorns were housed in a glass jar with a magnifying glass so that every detail could be on display.

“[Jivetin] gave that to us as a sort of transition gift and we were completely blown away,” said Houssart. “There’s a lot of people who are really stepping up … the new vision is built with a lot of components of what we feel is the best of Unison.”

Represented in “Joy” are the core values of Unison as a community center. Unison acts as a space for dialogue, sharing and holding difficult conversations that need to be had. Houssart is conscious of this in her curatorial work, making sure to emphasize inclusivity and accessibility in  her exhibits. 

“I feel very passionate about creating exhibits that  bring people together in dialogue about things that need to be expressed and talked about, and in the process making a space that makes the art a connecting tissue between really important parts of society,” Houssart said.

Unison’s move represents the accessibility and  inclusivity that they hope to represent. Unison’s new location  will be located in the crossroads of several different towns and cities in the area. The location, which was previously one of the first houses that one would see when entering New Paltz, is meant to transform Unison from a local center into a regional one. The new location will be located near a bus stop, right off of the highway and be much more walkable from New Paltz’s downtown than their current home.

Unison’s new building was gifted to the organization by Daniel Getman and Janice Pickering, the former owners of the space. Unison will also be able to own the new space instead of renting it, like they currently do with their Mountain Rest building.

The building itself has intense historical significance. It is one of the oldest buildings in New Paltz, and as such, Unison hopes to honor that by hosting programming educating about the human history of the area.

“What we want to do is use our space to [say], this is how we have lived. This is how people have grown up around these parts, this is how people have come up, this is how people have fought and have had joy and have struggled. This is how this was a frontier space with likely fights between indigenous peoples and some of the settlers,” said Faheem Haider, executive director of Unison.

Also planned for the new space is a performing arts center and black box theater. The new building, much larger than Unison’s current, has more rooms and thus more opportunities to create a space for even more artists than before. The space will welcome musicians, dancers, avant-garde artists and more who didn’t have a place to showcase their work before.

“We’ll be opening up avenues of arts presentation that are at this moment untapped,” said Haider.

Both Haider and Houssart are excited and hopeful about the contributions that the new space will be able to make to the community. Leaving 47 years of history behind at Mountain Rest Road is difficult and bittersweet, but the power and potential of the Paradies Lane location will encompass the beliefs and passions that Unison has always held dear.

“I hope [Unison] becomes a space that is really adopted by the town. I hope it becomes a jewel in the identity of what it means to be a resident of New Paltz and live around New Paltz, and, certainly more, I want it to be a gathering space for people around the region,” said Haider. “What has to happen is that, over time, the community takes up leadership.”

Unison’s final event will be a closing ceremony for “Joy,” held on Dec. 16 at their Mountain Rest location. More information on Unison and its programs can be found on their website or their Instagram, @unison_arts.

About Katie Ondris 40 Articles
Katie Ondris is a second-year journalism major from New Jersey. They have previous experience with fiction writing, but The Oracle is their first position as a journalist. Outside of New Paltz, they work as a barista and spend their free time indulged in films and books.