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Art is alive in Wassaic

This upcoming weekend is a very busy weekend in the Tri-state region. Here are some of the offerings (many in Connecticut): the Kent Sidewalk Festival, the 20th Annual Sharon Summer Book Signing, Weekend in Norfolk, the Litchfield Jazz Festival, the Millbrook Horse Trials, the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, the Rose Algrant Art Show, a party at the Scoville Memorial Library, a tag sale to benefit Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Connecticut and the Berkshire Comedy Festival. (For information on these events and more, read this week’s Compass supplement). 

But one stand-out event, especially on the New York side of the border, has got to be The Wassaic Project’s free, three-day arts festival.

In its ninth year, the nonprofit Wassaic Project’s Summer Festival brings together all media: visual art, film, music, dance — something for everyone. 

It brings those who love such art to the tiny hamlet of Wassaic, once known primarily for having little more than a homey but wonderful post office and the Pawling Corporation. Now, thanks to the festival, it’s recognized as The Place to find progressive art and forward-thinking artists.

It’s been quite a transformation. First, the seven-story Maxon Mills grain elevator building was completely renovated, thanks to the insistence and energy of some local folks, such as Calsi’s General Store owner Sharon Kroeger. Soon after, the mill itself was bought and chosen as the site of The Wassaic Project — completely revamping the small hamlet into a country-chic art locale with art galleries, residencies, studios, classes and more. People from all over the region and beyond now travel there to take part in something that is bigger than themselves.

An estimated 4,500 attend the event — many from New York City. In fact, the site is a short walk from the nearby Wassaic Metro-North train station, making handy use of the mass transit system so well situated right here in the Harlem Valley.

The Wassaic Project offers as much as one’s imagination. To  begin with, there are art installations galore and artists available to speak about their work. An estimated 56 artists, 45 of whom lived and made art in the hamlet during the past 18 months through its residency program, will participate this year. There are film screenings and discussions. Dancers and bands perform day and night. During the three-day festival there is art everywhere one looks — and make no mistake about it, the art world is looking at Wassaic. 

What a boon for the community! Event organizers have made integrating the hamlet into its efforts a priority; they organize an annual Community Day, complete with a parade for local residents to enjoy, as well as a fundraiser for the local fire department. The project has also been involved in other civic-minded doings, from volunteering to teach at the nearby North East (Webutuck) Central School District to donating scholarship funds to the families of cancer victims. 

Community is really at the heart of The Wassaic Project. The last day of the festival is centered around children. The arts collaborative also offers Art Nest, a teaching arm of The Wassaic Project for young ones.

It can’t be denied, life has been brighter in the sleepy hamlet of Wassaic ever since The Wassaic Project was born. And just as the project welcomes people from near and far to enjoy its art, the hamlet of Wassaic has welcomed project organizers and participating artists into its arms. 

Though there are admittedly too many events this weekend to count, put The Wassaic Project on your list of priorities. You won’t be sorry.

For details, go to www. wassaicproject.org.