Unison Arts to move into historic New Paltz building in March 2024 – Daily Freeman

Faheem Haider, executive director of the Unison Arts and Learning Center in New Paltz, New York, stands in the newly renovated space at its new location at 9 Paradies Lane on Wednesday, December 13, 2023. (Tania Barricklo/Daily Freeman)

NEW PALTZ, NY — As the Unison Arts & Learning Center enters 2024, it will prepare to move from its longtime home on Mountain Rest Road to a new location at 9 Paradies Lane just off State Route 299 near State Hwy.

Unison Arts CEO Faheem Haider expects them to complete the move by the end of March 2024. He said the building on the 1.9-acre site was donated to the organization by District Attorney Daniel Getman in December 2020.

“He was moving out of the property and wanted to gift it to a non-profit organization for a socially engaged space,” he said.

Haider said Unison was excited to own its building for the first time. The organization has leased its longtime space at 68 Mountain Rest Road since its inception in 1976. “In the nonprofit life, it’s better to own a building than to rent it,” he added.

Exterior of a building on the Unison property. (Tanya Barrichlo/Daily Freeman)

It includes an 18th-century home that may predate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, he said.

Heider notes that it was purchased in the 1790s by Jacob Hasbrouck, a descendant of the Huguenot families who were New Paltz’s earliest European settlers. He added that records show the Hasbroucks housed tenant farmers who looked over the land. Their heirs eventually sold it in the 1930s.

“We’re excited to be a little bit closer to the heart of the city and the heart of the village,” Hyder said. This includes easy access to not only the Thruway, Kingston and Rosendale, but also Poughkeepsie and even New York City.

“Students from SUNY New Paltz can come to us, we can engage the village,” he said. “The UCAT bus stops right at the end of our street.”

A 3D model of what the Unison Arts and Learning Center will look like after renovations are completed at its new location at 9 Paradies Lane in New Paltz, New York. Photo taken on Wednesday, December 13, 2023. (Tania Barricklo/Daily Freeman )

Hyder said that while they prepare for the move, Unison will pause all of its visual arts and concert programs. “We will make sure we take the time to take a deep breath and organize the move,” he added.

Unison workshops and Movie Lab programming will continue during the move.

Haider admitted the move will be a big change for the venerable organization, but he strongly believes it will be a change for the better.

“This will allow us to engage community members in more ways,” Hyder said, adding that he doesn’t want to rush things.

“We have to take time to think,” he said. “We don’t have to have a concert every week.”

Haider envisions future programming, including ensemble performances and programming focused on young talent at SUNY New Paltz and in Ulster County, avant-garde artists and composers who have not found a workshop home, while continuing to support the visual arts.

“There are a lot of amazing places for folk music, world music and cool rock ‘n’ roll, and I love that, but this is an important place where community members and musicians can play with the rules,” he said. “Come and propose a show, concert or visual arts show that plays with the things we know.”

Unison’s vision also includes a strong emphasis on community support, and this includes Haider inviting anyone with a programming idea to join him.

“We want to be there to help people solve their problems,” he said. “If any New Paltz High School student wants to do a project on the history of tenant farming in New Paltz, they can do it.”

He pointed to the Black History Month and Juneteenth programs that Unison worked on in collaboration with The Margaret Wade Lewis Center earlier this year. They include a show co-hosted with former Margaret Wade Lewis Center executive director Ezzy Lewis in February, he said.

Short-term plans call for the 18th-century part of the building to house rotating visual arts exhibitions, while a much more modern part, built by Getman in 2006, will house performing arts with a capacity for about 50.

A little further down the road, Unison hopes to build a two-story, 32-by-32-foot “eco-conscious” performance space in a separate space, he said.

Haider envisions the space not only hosting Unison programming, which includes theater, film and concerts, but also being rented out to others to share their work.

Haider envisions the space as a “modular cube” with modular walls that can be moved to transform the space for changing needs, such as a sculpture show, then a concert, then bringing the sculpture show back.

He acknowledged that support from donors and the state will be needed not only to build the new building, but also to stabilize and renovate the 18th-century building.

He also emphasized the importance of ensuring ADA accessibility, including the 18th-century home, which he wants to make the most accessible Colonial-era home in the county.

“We want to make sure that whatever your needs are or whatever your abilities are, you can enjoy us,” he said.

That accessibility extends to adoption by donation, so the space is accessible or welcoming to more than just those with higher incomes, he said.

“We are asking those who have abundance and are not coping with scarcity to help support other members of the community,” he said. “We don’t know what’s in your pocket to prevent you from engaging with us.”

Heider didn’t rule out being part of a conversation around affordable housing in New Paltz.

He argued that Unison wants to carve out its niche in the local arts scene and doesn’t want to compete for talent with other venues in and around New Paltz.

“Unison is about representing the community for itself,” he said. “Unison deserves to exist, thrive, build and grow because the community needs it.”

He noted that the community is not just the city of New Paltz.

“We’re open to veterans, we’re open to seniors in the village who are just getting by,” he said. “We want to make sure our trans brothers and sisters are seen and that our black and brown brothers and sisters have a place to call home. We want to be a space for conversations you can’t have at home.”

For more information about Unison Arts and a full program schedule, visit https://www.unisonarts.org/.

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