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A New Beginning For The Ancram Opera House

By Jamie Larson

It’s been said that art grows like a weed. No matter where it’s sprung, once rooted and flowered it remains forever. The humble Ancram Opera House (in Ancram, New York) is one such enduring place. Repurchased recently by theater professionals Paul Ricciardi and Jeff Mousseau, the unassuming opera house now sits in seed waiting to grow into something great…again.

At an open house Saturday, Nov. 28 from 2 to 5 p.m. Ricciardi and Mousseau will present their vision for the former grange hall constructed in 1927. They will reintroduce folks to the Opera House, introduce themselves to members of the small town whom they have not yet met, and discuss, with us all, their ambition for a new institution that will offer performances, classes and other events. The event will feature live music and refreshments.

“It’s a beautiful and intimate space and acoustically resonant,” says Ricciardi of the place that pulled them from Hudson into the Ancram countryside. They hope it will soon entice others, from near and far, in the same way.

It’s the intimacy of the opera house that really appeals to the pair, who say they are partial to performances that draw from a closeness to the audience, noting that audience members should feel like their presence is necessary to those on stage.

Their ambitions are buttressed by impressive pedigrees. Mousseau’s theater directing resume includes a residency at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. His work has been seen at Tribeca Performing Arts Center, among other places in New York City, and locally at Stageworks, Hudson Opera House, Proctor’s Theatre and Olana.

Ricciardi currently teaches acting and voice at the City University of New York/Kingsborough Community College. As an actor he has worked in New York City, regionally and abroad. Recent credits include the premiere of his new solo show, Angry and Other Stories at Dixon Place in NYC, Moving Vehicles at Club Helsinki and Hamlet at Saratoga Shakespeare Company.

Ricciardi teaches acting in the Linklater system, and will be offering classes at the opera house. While he will continue to work with world-class performers from New York and our region, he looks forward to also offering classes to locals interested in the craft.

“The driving spirit is as a meeting place,” says Mousseau, “An ideal cast would be a mix of actors from New York and the region.”

While built as a unionizing structure for local farmers, from its conception a stage was always a part of the physical and communal configuration of the hall. Whether used for local political meetings, livestock auctions or plays by local actors, the original intent of this small town building was the amplification of the performing voice.

“Along with advocating for farmers, the hall provided entertainment,” says Ricciardi. “It was a part of the history of this place from the beginning.”

In 1972, two cousins recognized the hall’s acoustic proficiency and created a dedicated opera house. But their goals were lofty and overreaching. They bought up a church and the general store and a few other buildings in hopes of creating an opera village in Ancram. When they went bankrupt, the building went through a series of reinventions, including its most recent beloved incarnation as a community performance/meeting space and yoga studio.

“Our short-term goal is to create a modest season in the spring,” says Mousseau, who adds they are grateful for those who have stewarded the opera house before them. “This building has a great history and we hope to honor that, while bringing something new to Ancram.”

Ancram Opera House
Open House: Saturday, Nov. 28, 2-5 p.m.
1330 County Rte. 7, Ancram, NY
(518) 329-0114

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/23/15 at 01:17 PM • Permalink

Eye On Hudson: Five New Hotspots You Should Know About

By Jamie Larson

You hear it all the time: those who occasionally visit Hudson will remark on the many changes they’ve encountered since their last swing through town. New businesses are always opening and the end of summer 2015 was an especially active time for the little city’s business district, with establishments of all kinds opening their doors. But it’s not just quantity. The quality of Hudson’s new businesses continue to elevate the Hudson experience for both residents and visitors alike. Here are five new hotspots to check out next time you’re there.

Rivertown Lodge
731 Warren Street
(518) 512-0954

Formerly the Warren Inn Motel, the completely transformed Rivertown Lodge is thoroughly hip, and perfectly Hudson. With a mix of clean, finished modern carpentry and tastefully selected antiques, Rivertown Lodge is filled with beautifully designed rooms and a light-filled lobby that lends charm and calm. The supreme sophistication of the hotel is the work of partners Kim Bucci and Ray Pirkle. The latter’s experience in the New York hotel business, including at the Soho Grand, more than prepared them to run a hotel that blends the familial comfort of a mom-and-pop outfit with the high-design vision appropriate for the new Hudson. With record players, fireplaces and bikes to borrow, Rivertown is a great way to set the tone for visitors looking to lose themselves in the town.

Hudson Home
366 Warren Street
(518) 822-8120

There are more stores to shop and browse in Hudson than you could possibly hit in a day. But the new location of Hudson Home, a Warren Street staple for more than a decade, is a must see. Recently reopened in the renovated warehouse of the old Register Star newspaper building in the dead center of town, HH is gorgeous inside and out. With half of the upstairs removed, the gallery presents furnishings, housewares, art and gifts in a massive loft space bathed in light from large windows. Where overworked and underpaid reporters once slaved away in a dingy office for a dying medium, now modern elegance is elevated by expert presentation and a mastery of design. Founders Richard Bodin and Greg Feller helped set the trend of what a Hudson home should feel like, and with their striking new location they’re proving they’re also in control of driving it forward.

“We spent a long time trying to get this space so we could present the things we love in the way we envisioned it,” Bodin says. “We hope people will use it in their own lives. We want to help people create spaces that feel inviting and soothing.”

35 South Third Street
(518) 828-0798

The coolest new place in town to get a cocktail is the stylish bar/art gallery/café (with food prepared by the specialty shop Talbott and Arding) built in a former auto garage. With its big bay doors, open or shut, this Norse-modern bar is spare and airy. A lot is accomplished within the space. There’s gallery space to the right, picnic tables for café patrons to the left and a massive center island bar made with no screws or glue by co-owner, sculptor and furnituremaker Adam Loomis. He and fashion photographer Jennifer Tzar have created an incredibly original establishment. There’s sort of a purposeful unfinished quality to the way things are laid out and in the raw finish of the bar, tables and walls around the patio. It’s as if the next time you come in, a totally new aspect might have been constructed. On top of all that, the food is great, with offerings of bold cheese plates, sandwiches, salmon and trout rillettes and much more. The drink selections are comprehensive and the cocktail menu is inventive.

Back Bar
347 Warren Street

The other coolest new place in town to get a cocktail is the stylish bar/antique shop/café (with food prepared by the kitchen at Zak Pelaccio’s Fish & Game) built in a former auto garage. While you may be experiencing some deja vu, the similarities between Back Bar and Ör end at their description on paper. The feel of Back Bar is all about texture. The collection of high-end antiques and more playful garage-y elements are accentuated by the wall of windows behind the stools, which are, of course, actually the old bay doors of the former gas station and repair shop. The narrow speakeasy vibe when the doors are down creates the impression that you’re in on a secret. Even when the doors are up — revealing the more spacious back patio — you’re still hidden, closer to the narrow alley than to Warren Street. You actually kind of are in on a secret; Back Bar has only a small sign alerting you to the fact that there even is a bar tucked into designer Michael Davis’s 3FortySeven gallery, next to the food truck court, and there’s no website or phone number.The food and cocktails are worth the visit, but it’s the seemingly effortless, cool, multicultural, quasi-industrial style (synonymous with Davis) that creates the memorable experience at Back Bar.

Patisserie Lenox
504 Warren Street

Just five years after opening its first cafe in Lenox and two years after launching its second location in Great Barrington, Patisserie Lenox has come to Hudson. Acclaimed pastry chef Jean Yves and wife Yulia, who manages and designs the non-pastry aspects of the menu, were embraced quickly. The packed displays of pastries, confections and desserts are mesmerizing, and the comfortable feel of the place will be welcoming to visitors from the Berkshires — there’s that decidedly European mountain café feel that seems to be a part of the Western Mass. style. Yulia Yves said they always liked Hudson and felt it needed a casual café, where you could get in and out of for a treat or soup and sandwich, but that’s up to par with the town’s growing sophistication. Jean Yves certainly has the pedigree to pull it off with the same flare as his other endeavors. He graduated first in his class at one of the top pastry schools in Paris, worked eight years as the pastry chef in a four-star Manhattan restaurant, opened eight cafés on Long Island, created fresh pastries for major European airlines and made specialty cakes for dignitaries, including the former president of France, Jacques Chirac, and the King of Morocco. And now you can taste his work while walking down the street in our constantly evolving Hudson.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 10/26/15 at 11:20 AM • Permalink

Frankenstein And Dracula Have Some Things To Say In Litchfield

From a “Miracle on 34th Street” production. Photos courtesy Peter Tavino.

The Rural Intelligence region excels in community spirit, and in Litchfield, some of the spookiest spirits are coming to life in Halloween Radio Plays being produced at the Oliver Wolcott Library on Oct. 27 and 28.

The library has been home to radio plays for a few years, using existing scripts of 1930s broadcasts that are available online. The productions are volunteer driven and popular enough to fill up the community room for each performance. The shows are free, but registration is a must.

“We’ve usually done them during the winter holidays,” said Peter Tavino, a civil engineer and volunteer who now manages the operation. “We’ve done A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, but this is the first time we’ve done a Halloween theme. Since both of the plays — Frankenstein and Count Dracula — have similar characters, we’re able to cast just about seven actors.”

Playing the title characters in both plays is “veteran actor” Judge Charles D. Gill, a former judge for the Litchfield District Superior Court in Connecticut, who’s as comfortable on a stage as he was in his courtroom.

Even though it’s a radio play, it’s a live performance in front of an audience, so there are costumes, sets, music and, of course, sound effects, all of which Tavino handles. When we reached him, he was preparing for that evening’s rehearsal.

“I’m trying to get the smoke machine going,” he said.

Halloween Radio Plays
With Peter Tavino & Friends
(Best for Adults)
Oct. 27-28 at 7 p.m.
Oliver Wolcott Library
160 South St., Litchfield, Conn.
(860) 567-8030

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/20/15 at 12:06 PM • Permalink

Meet Your Makers At North Adams Open Studios

You can visit our area’s many fantastic museums at any time (and you should), but how often do you get to peek inside the studios and homes of loft-living artists? The answer is one weekend a year: October 17 and 18 from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. each day during North Adams Open Studios. At the Eclipse Mill at 243 Union Street, you’re allowed to wander at your own pace through the lives of painters, sculptors, potters, fabric artists, a puppeteer and a bookseller. Below, we offer a preview of what you’ll see on your tour.

Debi Pendell and her husband Carl Oman, a programmer and musician, have lived in the Mill since the beginning. They knew a good deal when they saw one and have been here for the past 12 years.

Debi’s bright studio is large enough to hold classes. Her work is mainly collage, incorporating painting, drawing and mixed media, in layers. Along with her work, shown above, Debi will exhibit collages by her friend, British artist Margaret Thompson.

Dave Lane teaches painting, drawing and mask making in his studio and at locations around Berkshire County. On the left are two of his masks created in leather.

Stop by Dave’s studio where he and Krista Duke will be working on the original puppet play, The Chronicles of Rose, which explores the Nazi appropriation of art during WWII. See some of the puppets, show above, and help them construct a scale model of Hitler’s Führermuseum. A toy theater also will be set up for the kids.

Artist couple Ed and Sharon Carson share a loft, with studio space separated by a curtain. Ed’s landscape paintings will be on display, along with his more recent digital iPad drawings and comic strips.

Sharon has painted en plein air around the world [right], and now is experimenting with printmaking [left]. The lure of the Eclipse Mill lofts for Sharon was the opportunity to “live with the work.”

River Hill Pottery encompasses a work space and shop on the first floor of the Mill, at #104. A second, attached loft functions as a living space for owners Gail and Phil Sellers.

The couple create ceramic baskets by hand, along with other household and gift items such as mugs, bowls, butter dishes and wall art.

Three large looms and a wall of thread greet you as you step into Betty Vera’s loft, which she shares with her writer husband.

Even more of Betty’s fiber art is on display in the first-floor gallery, along with photographs by Lois Linet, in an exhibit called Look Carefully. View her work and get inspired to take one of her classes at the new North Adams Makers’ Mill.

Painter Sarah Sutro will display her abstract landscapes [left], as well as works on paper using natural inks from organic materials [right], a skill she learned in Dhaka and Bangkok.

Larger works by Sarah seen inside her studio [left] and displayed in the hallway gallery outside her loft [right].

Grover Askins, owner of G.J. Askins, Bookseller on the Mill’s first floor, has transferred his used and antiquarian stock of history, fiction, music, science and other tomes from his former bookshop in New Lebanon, NY. His loft, appropriately, has an entire room dedicated to art books, with a couch where you can sit and flip through your favorites.

Other artists include quilter and fabric artist Michelle Jensen [left] and Marjorie Minkin’s abstract paintings and lexan relief works [right]. (Minkin sculpture photo from her website.)

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 10/12/15 at 02:32 PM • Permalink

Ralph Nader Opens A Tort (Yes, Tort) Museum in Winsted, CT

Nader AMTLBy Jamie Larson

Storied public safety crusader, polarizing third party candidate and Winsted, Conn. local Ralph Nader has finally opened the doors to the American Museum of Tort Law in his home town. If a museum dedicated to the history of personal injury law and consumer protection doesn’t sound like the most thrilling way to spend an afternoon, museum co-founder and president Nader says that’s only because you haven’t seen it yet.

“It’s a museum that relates to people’s daily experiences,” Nader says. “These are issues that impact the safety of our air, our cars, our water, our medicine…”

Inside the stately former bank on Saturday, Sept. 26, the museum held its convocation, featuring guests notable in the world of tort, including U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, and a performance by Patti Smith, a longtime supporter and advocate of Nader’s causes. Nader downplays the museum as a temple to his legacy, pointing out that a lot of the legal cases currently featured in the museum are not ones he championed. A notable exception is the museum’s largest exhibit piece, a beautiful red Chevrolet Corvair, the dangers of which Nader famously cataloged in his 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed.

“[The Museum] is about the people, but nothing is enduring without an institution,” says the 81-year-old Nader, adding that the fruit of his labor has always been the institutions he established to help educate and safeguard the public, including the national network of Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) and now the museum, which he began planning in 1998.

Aside from the Corvair and a few other artifacts, such as some of history’s most egregiously unsafe children’s toys, the museum is filled with large, nicely produced boards that outline famous cases. Frankly, there’s a lot to read in the Tort Museum, but Nader says the examples don’t just dump information on you but provide “points of thought to challenge the visitor.”

Nader says it’s important that the museum convey the value of personal injury law not just as history but as an ongoing fight between regular people and corporations that have done some unspeakably terrible things. Through negligence, penny pinching or lack of ethics, corporations have and continue to maim and murder Americans with a regularity Nader finds alarming. He also feels that those in favor of tort reform are spreading misinformation (like inflated false injury claim statistics) in an attempt to allow corporations to avoid paying what they owe to the people they hurt.

“Media propaganda gives the impression [tort law] is abused,” Nader says, his passion for the issue still raging behind his distinctive gravel baritone. “Less than 10 percent of cases ever reach a lawyer. It is still very hard to negotiate the system.”

While Nader’s legacy as a public crusader is still widely discussed in progressive circles and his name will likely be the strongest draw to the museum, one uncomfortable question shadows the Tort Museum; will lingering Democratic animosity over the perception that Nader’s third-party bid for President of the United States in 2000 cost Al Gore the election (making Nader an accessory before the fact to the Bush administration’s actions) impact museum attendance?

“Only the liberal intelligentsia still have that syndrome,” Nader says by way of addressing the 15-year-old controversy. “There were ten reasons Gore didn’t win. They wanted to scapegoat me. But it isn’t the rank and file that think that. Working people think everyone has a right to run.”

To Nader, issues of tort law are highly political because he sees the vast majority of politicians as subservient to their financial donors in what nearly amounts to a corporate oligarchy. He says there’s much more resistance and animosity towards his museum from the right.

While Nader doesn’t make endorsements when it comes to the current presidential race, he supports a lot of Senator Bernie Sanders’ positions. If former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton becomes president Nader thinks she could be as bad as any Republican when it comes to the issues he cares about, calling her a “Corporatist and a Militarist.”

Nader allows that while Republican front runner Donald Trump is waging a campaign based on hateful xenophobic ideas he happens to blurt out off the top of his head and then decides to run with, he’s glad the blunt mogul is in the race.

“I actually say good things about Trump,” Nader says, his tone lightening. “Trump is putting forces in all directions and some are good. He’s knocking out [Republican candidates] who are corporate warmongers and calls out hedgefunders. And the silver lining is he galvanizes his opponents [on the left].”

Though he may not be willing to say that the new Museum of Tort Law is how he’d like to be remembered, Nader is more than willing to use it as an instrument, another weapon in his still ongoing fight for the public good. And though tort law may not be the sexiest topic for a museum, there are without a doubt some really important historical issues, lessons and truths thoughtfully displayed throughout the museum worth considering the next time you’re cutting through Winsted. And if you’re still on the fence, heck, Patti Smith thinks it’s cool, so who are you to argue?

American Museum of Tort Law
654 Main Street, Winsted, CT
(860) 379-0505

April 1 – December 31:
Wednesday – Monday, 10:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Closed Tuesdays)
January 1 – April 1:
Contact to schedule a private tour.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 09/28/15 at 01:05 PM • Permalink

Otto’s For Sale: The End Of A Chapter In Germantown

Otto's MarketBy Jamie Larson

In just seven years, Otto’s Market and its genial owner Otto Leuschel have become an institution on Main Street in the small hamlet of Germantown, New York. In 2012, Leuschel also opened Germantown Variety across the street, an updated five and dime as meticulously curated and quality driven as the market. The stores have cemented the former Whole Foods Market VP’s local legacy as a community-oriented master businessman. In many ways, Leuschel has been directly responsible for revitalizing the town and creating a sustainable little business. In fact, the owners of the well-received new restaurant Gaskins credit the stores specifically as one of the reasons they chose to open in the town.

Germantown VarietySo it came as a shock to many when Leuschel recently put both Otto’s and Germantown Variety up for sale so he can move back home to Washington State to help support his now 87-year-old parents.

“It was a very difficult decision because I’m proud of what I’ve built, but at the end of the day it’s a business,” Leuschel says. “I’ve been on the move my whole life and never stayed in one place too long. I see my life as chapters and this was by far the greatest chapter.”

Otto’s Market was originally built as a grocery store in 1927, and when Leuschel purchased the building he did a total renovation of the space to recreate an all-American early-20th century vibe. The atmosphere, and the market’s mix of everyday groceries with specialty and local foods, managed to do what was once thought impossible in Columbia County: bring the longtime locals and metro-transplants together.

Leuschel says he spends time considering every single thing he stocks, and that by selling high-quality (rather than “gourmet”) products, he tries to give the community the feeling that they are never excluded or priced out.

He says the only difference between the two types of clientele is that locals come in when they’re looking for something specific or to get coffee and a sandwich from the back deli, whereas weekenders will often do their whole shop.

Across the street, Germantown Variety essentially became the hardware and home goods extension of Otto’s, selling everything from nails and screws to beauty supplies and children’s toys. The store proved Otto’s wasn’t just a lucky fluke but that, if well run, new businesses could thrive in the out-of-the-way little town. It’s a lesson to be heeded not just by Germantown but smaller municipalities across the region.

From a real estate perspective, Germantown Variety may be an even more interesting property because along with the store, the beautiful 1930s structure also has two renovated loft apartments and an office suite.

“It’s time for me to sell — but I’m also selling something really cool,” says Leuschel, who never thought he would be going back to Whole Foods to run a store in Washington. “For a lot of people these are more than just stores. I’m so happy I was able to be a part of the community. Saying goodbye to the kids I’ve watched grow up is the hardest part.”

Gtown Variety interiorLeuschel’s goal is to find buyers interested in continuing and growing the businesses because they have become integral to the community. But more than that, he has created two stores that could be used as a masters study in business management. During his 17 years at Whole Foods, Leuschel opened and/or ran stores that played a part in the company becoming the giant it is today. He was responsible for opening the first Whole Foods stores in New York City, San Francisco and London, among many others. He says Otto’s and Germantown Variety are run just like a Whole Foods and any buyer could inherit all the successful and proven structures and efficiencies he’s built into the operations. He hopes that also means they would keep on the much-loved and well-trained local staff.

Gtown Variety

The apartment above Germantown Variety.

“I hope to sell it to someone who can carry it on and take it further. I’ve given it all I’ve got, all my tools,” he says, adding that he’s not just selling the businesses and the buildings but the chance to live the amazing lifestyle Germantown has afforded him.

“People get me and accept me and like me and celebrate me. I have to go because my head is going to get too big! I’m cognizant of what I’m giving up. It’s great to be me here and if you want my life, it’s for sale.”

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 09/21/15 at 03:35 PM • Permalink

Six Degrees Of Satay And More At The Indonesian Country Fair

By Lisa Green

When Iin Purwanti presented an Indonesian night at Six Depot in West Stockbridge, Mass. a few years ago, the response from the community was so positive that she vowed she would do more to introduce the art and talent of her native country. The result is the first annual (she hopes) Indonesian Country Fair on Saturday, Sept. 26 in downtown West Stockbridge.

“A country fair is so American,” Purwanti says. But instead of foot-long hotdogs, there will be six kinds of satay (one kind from each of Indonesia’s six major islands), prepared by Priscilya Princessa, winner of MasterChef Indonesia. Taking the place of a B-level country/western act, the Saung Budaya Dance Group from New York City will entertain with traditional dances. A Balinese gamelan group will perform with its traditional set of magical, percussive instruments, representing an integral part of Indonesian culture.

At heart, the Indonesian Country Fair is a food fair, Purwanti says, because food and Indonesians go together, and food provides a delicious way into the archipelago’s cultural richness. But accompanying the food-related activities (including a cracker speed-eating contest, a traditional game played on Indonesian independence day) there will be a batik making demonstration, arts and crafts vendors, and the opportunity to meet representatives from several organizations who work with Indonesian youth.

Purwanti [in photo, right] and her husband, George Cox, are filmmakers who run Outpost, a video production studio headquartered just above Six Depot. With her concentration on filming nonprofit and grassroots organizations, it’s not surprising that Purwanti is eager to foster an exchange between her original home and her adopted one.

“Hosting this event is like merging two big families together — my Indonesian and American family — pretty much like my own marriage with my beloved husband and creative partner, George,” she says. “Lots of introductions and dialogue need to be made and nothing is better than with food and arts. “

Upon arrival at the fair, guests will be given a map of the grounds, a “passport” with six empty circles — one for each of the showcased islands. Visitors who meet up with the island tour guides will get their passports stamped. There’s a prize for those who collect all six stamps.

“I’m excited about the whole concept of giving people a little vacation to Indonesia,” Purwanti says.

Indonesian Country Fair
Saturday, Sept. 26, noon-6 p.m.
6 Harris Street, West Stockbridge, MA

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/19/15 at 03:55 PM • Permalink

Who Doesn’t Love An Ice Cream Social?

SoCo Creamery, the handcrafted, micro-batch ice cream company started in 1989 by Danny Mazursky and his family, has frequently introduced seasonal flavors (you may have tasted fall’s Pumpkin Chocolate Chip or the holiday-inspired Gingerbread). But lately, the Great Barrington-based ice cream maker has been partnering with local taste purveyors for inspiration, and you’re invited to try out the new flavors at an ice cream social on Saturday, Aug. 8 at the Great Barrington Bandstand behind the Town Hall.

Making their debuts will be Windy Hill Farm Blueberry, Taft Farms Harvest Mint Chip and No. Six Depot Heart of Darkness. Ice cream cones will be sold for a $1 each, with all proceeds going to the Great Barrington Historical Society.

The intent, says SoCo President Erik Bruun, is to reintroduce SoCo as the natural ice cream that really reflects the values of New England, and to let people know that the company has dropped corn syrup and carageenan (an emulsifier that’s banned in the European Union) from its ingredient mix.  “We look for purveyors of similarly high qualities who can offer something that makes for good ice cream.”

These new seasonal flavors (as well as the outgoing No. Six Depot Bali Blue Moon, Home Sweet Home Cinnamon Doughnut and Sweet Brook Farm Maple Bacon, which will be available at the event) offer a taste tour of the Berkshires, but they’ll all be in one place. At $1 per cone, you can try as many as you like, and help the Historical Society with each one. The Lucky Five Jazz Band will provide the musical licks.

SoCo Ice Cream Social
Saturday, Aug. 8, 2-5 p.m.
Great Barrington, MA Bandstand at the Town Hall

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Posted by Lisa Green on 08/03/15 at 03:12 PM • Permalink

Kent Presents: An Ideas Festival About What Comes Next

Speakers include Jeffrey Toobin, Henry Kissinger, Mia Farrow, Soledad O’Brien, Siddhartha Mukherjee and Paul Krugman. Photo of Krugman: Frank R. Conrad, The New York Times.

By Jamie Larson

It is impossible to overstate the caliber of speakers, the depth of knowledge or the collective value of experience planned for display at the inaugural Kent Presents ideas festival, August 13th – 15th at the Kent School. Thanks to the philanthropic vision and deep personal rolodex of laudable locals Benjamin and Donna Rosen, the beautiful small town of Kent, Connecticut will host some of the greatest minds of our time as they speak on the conference’s heady theme—“What Comes Next?”

With the humble intent of increasing interest in their town and supporting local charities, the Rosens have put together a conference of 70 diverse speakers that include Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, economist Paul Krugman and director of the National Cancer Institute Harold Varmus, all three of whom happen to be Nobel Prize winners. The schedule includes presentations from experts in science, public policy, business and technology including Pulitzer Prize-winning doctor and author Siddhartha Mukherjee, president of the World Monuments Fund Bonnie Burnham, Bloomberg Finance executive editor Christine Harper, New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, director of the Iran Project and former ambassador William Luers and many more.

“They’re coming to a village they’ve never heard of for an event that never existed before,” Donna Rosen says with a laugh. “We hope to establish Kent and Litchfield County as a center for intellectual thought.”

The Rosens [photo, right] were able to manifest this laudable event out of thin air due to the connections they’ve cultivated during a lifetime spent in the upper echelons of business, policy, philanthropy and the arts. Benjamin Rosen is a former venture capitalist, chairman emeritus of Compaq Computer, chairman emeritus and current life trustee of the California Institute of Technology and currently on the boards of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (emeritus) and the New York Philharmonic (emeritus). He is also a former Met Opera board member and Columbia Business School board chairman. Donna Rosen was a longtime contemporary art gallery owner in New Orleans, and is now active in philanthropy and the visual arts, and is a board member of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, and American Friends of the British Museum.

With Mrs. Rosen’s connection to the art world, it’s no surprise the Kent Presents lineup also boasts many notables from the world of arts and media including actress and activist Mia Farrow, CNN journalist and author Fareed Zakaria, Tony-winning Broadway director Richard Maltby Jr., artist Xaviera Simmons, journalist Soledad O’Brien… the list goes on and on.

“We are fortunate to have great friends involved in many facets of life,” Rosen says. That’s a bit of an understatement.

It’s almost hard to parse the scale of Kent Presents with its casual catalyst. Last August, the Rosens were having a conversation with some friends about the Aspen Ideas Festival and how great it would be to have a similar event in Kent, close to New York City but also surrounded by a beautiful landscape.

“Ben said it would be a good project for him since he doesn’t play golf anymore,” says Rosen. “So we founded the non-profit to support local charities and asked (Kent School headmaster Richardson Schell) if we could use the school as a venue and he graciously opened his doors to us. We sent emails to various friends of ours and, to our delight, many said yes.”

Unfortunately, the nearly $2,000 passes to Kent Presents are all but sold out, with a number of seats having been comped to local residents so that the event could be diverse and accessible. The Rosens are pleased and encouraged by the interest and are already looking forward to next year when they may need to expand.

Though only in their start-up year, without any sponsors, Rosen expects to raise a six-figure amount for the local charities selected at a later date by a committee of local residents, not including the Rosens. 

Kent Presents
Thursday, August 13—Saturday, August 15
On the grounds of the Kent School in Kent, CT

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 07/20/15 at 09:37 AM • Permalink

Slideshow + Potluck = Slideluck, A Community Happening

Casey Kelbaugh at a recent Slideluck in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Photo by John Mazlish.

By Lisa Green

Slideluck, a non-profit organization dedicated to building and strengthening community through food and art, has had a presence in cities throughout the world, but it’s making its first stop in the Berkshires next week, and you’re invited. The event is being hosted by The Barn Gallery at Stonover Farm Bed and Breakfast in Lenox on Thursday, July 16, with the potluck starting at 6:30 p.m. and the slideshow at 8:30 p.m.

Part slideshow, part potluck, Slideluck was the brainchild of photographer Casey Kelbaugh, who hosted the first event in his Seattle backyard in 2000. The idea was to bring artists out of their studios and show their work via slideshow to the community, with potluck meals provided by the guests. Since then, more than 100 cities worldwide have hosted Slideluck events and presented the work of about 10,000 artists.

Each community sets up its own event, backed by the sizable staff of Slideluck, now based in New York City. And while most of the Slidelucks occur in metropolitan areas, Kelbaugh is excited to bring the concept to a rural setting. He’s known the Werman family, owners of Stonover Farm, for years, and they’ve talked about a collaboration for a long time. Suky Werman, who curates The Barn Gallery, was aware of Slideluck — her kids had attended a few of them in Brooklyn — so she was familiar with the concept and always had it in the back of her mind for The Barn Gallery to host.

“Last year we came relatively close, but Suky wasn’t ready, so we decided to plan it out,” Kelbaugh says. “The property is the perfect location — the idea of doing it with a big open barn is so exciting.” Since the first event 15 years ago, Slidelucks have expanded beyond a backyard-type venue, Kelbaugh says, but there’s still an authenticity each time. “We’ve worked hard to keep the community barbecue feeling.”

Werman, who has long been affiliated with IS183 Art School of the Berkshires (she’s currently on the board), sees the event as a way to draw a wider crowd to the art experience. Yes, it’s a way to broaden the community who comes to see work at The Barn Gallery, but the combination of food and slideshow will also, she thinks, attract a more multigenerational crowd. She’s curated the show of more than 20 artists (local and otherwise) from a range of media – photography, painting, ceramics, textiles. Their work will be available in the Gallery, and a portion of each sale will be donated to IS183.

The Slideluck organization sends out a team to help produce the event, with sponsors Brooklyn Brewery and Souverain wine supplying the beverages. Think Tanglewood picnic: come prepared to spread out on the lawn to both eat and watch the slideshow, which will be projected on the barn exterior (in case of inclement weather, the event will be moved inside). What to bring? Keep the Cheetos at home, please, and consider supplying an appetizer, salad, main course or dessert to share with some portion of the crowd. Werman is hoping for a gathering of 150-170 people. Although it’s always tough to anticipate the participation, Kelbaugh says it always works out.

Come for the feast, stay for the show. It just may be the event of Summer ‘15.

Slideluck Berkshires
Thursday, July 16, 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
The Barn Gallery, Lenox

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/05/15 at 11:17 AM • Permalink