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New Ancram Center for the Arts comes together

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“A graceful series of porches and ramps will tie the two structures together to create a visually unified identity,” says the architect’s feasibility study. Design/renderings by Ackert Architecture PC

NOTE: After this article went to press, Ancram Opera House co-directors had to postpone their September 24 kick-off volunteer event and public remarks due to Covid. A new date will be announced soon. Until then, the co-directors say many thanks to those who signed up to volunteer and for all who were planning to come by to celebrate Ancram Opera House and our expansion plans.

ANCRAM—Tucked into the southeastern corner of this rural county, the Town of Ancram is scenic, historic and steeped in farming. Soon, it will add an arts center to its list of notable features.

Ancram Opera House (AOH) co-directors have announced the expansion of the existing premises at 1330 County Route 7, to include a newly-acquired adjacent property at 1326 County Route 7, to be known as The Annex. Together the Opera House and The Annex will be known as the Ancram Center for the Arts.

The Annex, a 1,300 square-foot, two-story post-and-beam structure, dates back to 1780, believed built by descendants of the Livingston family. It has been vacant, but is structurally sound, according to a September 8 AOH press release. The building and .08 acre property will allow the campus to include a community meeting room, outdoor areas for audience gatherings pre- and post-show, and housing for artists and interns.

To get the community involved a volunteer clean-up day and ground-breaking ceremony will be held there, Saturday, September 24.

Volunteers need no experience and can sign-up for shifts from noon to 2 p.m. and/or 2 to 4 p.m. Gloves, dust masks, hard hats (donated by Herrington’s Lumber), water and snacks will be provided. To get involved, email info@ancramoperahouse.org.

The outdoor (weather permitting) groundbreaking ceremony, open to the public, kicks off at 2 p.m. It will include brief remarks by AOH Board Chair Cathy Redlich, Ancram Town Supervisor Art Bassin, Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-106th), and AOH co-directors Jeffrey Mousseau and Paul Ricciardi.

“This expansion is in direct response to community requests for expanded programming and opportunities. It reflects our already thriving programs, a commitment to sustaining them, and an investment in our future as a vital resource for Ancram and beyond,” AOH Co-director Mousseau explained in the release.

“This project represents so much exciting progress for Ancram, and we really feel the community’s support behind us. We hope everyone will join in and help us create this really needed community space for all,” AOH Co-director Ricciardi added.

New York City and Hillsdale-based Ackert Architecture PC has created a design to link The Annex, with the existing Opera House in ways that are historically sensitive and which integrate current standards for accessibility in both buildings, which are zoned within Ancram’s central business district and are close to the hamlet’s main intersection.

According to the architect’s feasibility study, “The total project cost including general conditions and insurance is $346,400. This total budget includes the ADA bathroom and lobby modifications within the Ancram Opera House at $15,500, another $30,000 for repairs to the septic system and $10,000 for construction of exterior decks and ramps. This leaves a total of $300,000 for the renovation of 1326 County Route 7.”

“A renovation project of this kind would most likely take 4 months in the design phase and approximately 4 to 6 months in construction,” according to the study.

“In many ways, we’ve been the Ancram Center for the Arts all along, we’re just now changing our name to better reflect all that we do. And with wonderful community support, annual funding from the NY State Council on the Arts, and a lot of hard work to keep our operations lean and mean, we’ve been able to flourish. We don’t intend to change our model all that much and, in fact, the cost to operate the new property will be offset by savings from our paying for rentals,” Co-director Mousseau told The Columbia Paper by email.

“Much of our audience resides in the Roe Jan area–Ancram, Copake and Hillsdale–but we do see a lot of folks coming from elsewhere in Columbia and Dutchess counties, the Berkshires and northwest Connecticut. While our goal is to provide Ancram with an anchor, we see the project bringing residents and visitors alike from the tri-state area to our little hamlet to take a workshop or experience remarkable performances by truly visionary theater artists,” he said.

Mr. Mousseau and Mr. Ricciardi, formerly of Hudson, became proprietors of the Ancram Opera House in 2015.

Beginning AOH operations in 2016, they transformed it into a professional non-profit theater. Over six seasons, including two pandemic years, they have garnered acclaim from audiences and been the recipient of a Berkshire Theater Critics’ Award, says the release announcing the new expansion.

In 2021, Ancram Opera House produced 90 events, including productions, concerts, and workshops reaching approximately 1,700 individuals through live and virtual offerings.

Half of all events were free, consistent with a commitment to making theater accessible to all.

Now, AOH activities extend to eight months of the year, creating opportunities for artists to develop and showcase new work, presenting concerts and readings, and producing two fully-staged theatrical productions each year.

Mr. Riccardi teaches an original storytelling program which is now an established part of the curriculum at the Taconic Hills Central School, supporting their literacy development programs for middle-school students, says the release.

Ancram Supervisor Bassin, who will speak at the ceremony Saturday, told The Columbia Paper by phone this week, “The Ancram Community is so proud of Paul and Jeff’s accomplishments. They have contributed to the quality of life in the town. Their investments in facilities will further enhance the beauty and value of the town in ways that we all can appreciate. We wish them well in their future endeavor.”

The Center for the Arts will be fully accessible. The existing administrative office on the main floor of the Opera House will be converted into an ADA compliant restroom. Ramps, other walkways, and approaches will be designed to provide improved accessibility throughout.

The HVAC system will be replaced to achieve exceptional levels in ventilation and air purification. Last, but not least, the project will address and improve the parking, says the release.

Additional housing for artists and interns in The Annex will allow the co-directors to offer opportunities to a larger and more diverse group.

“NYS Homes and Community Renewal’s Main Street Program is supporting the restoration and renovation work on the property. We’re also grateful to NY State Council on the Arts and Assemblymember Didi Barrett’s office for nominating us for additional funding to support the work. Funds from private sources were raised to allow Ancram Opera House, which is a non-profit organization, to purchase the house,” Mr. Mousseau said by email.

After about three seasons, the co-directors “realized that we needed more space. Each year we struggle to find affordable housing for artists that are coming to Ancram to work here. We also were meeting students and recent graduates wanting to intern with us but who couldn’t because we didn’t offer housing.

“When the house next door became available, we and our board knew right away that the organization needed to explore purchasing it. Given its location, it’s perfect and has allowed us to expand our thinking to envision a multi-purpose property also providing community meeting and workshop space and outdoor areas for audiences to gather before and after shows,” Mr. Mousseau said by email.

The expansion project is accompanied by a fundraising campaign. The community is invited to play a role in the success of this project and in sustaining the Center for the Arts’ future.

All contributions are fully tax-deductible as allowed by law.

The Opera House was erected in 1927 as the Ancram Grange Hall #955. In 1972, the grange was transformed into a performance venue and renamed the Ancram Opera House. Over the years, it has been home to a ceramist, woodworker, theater and music performances and yoga classes.

“Across our region and around the state we have seen that local arts and cultural organizations feed not only our souls, but also the local economy. Ancram Opera House is poised to do just that as it breaks ground September 24th on the exciting new expanded campus for The Ancram Center for the Arts. Adding indoor and outdoor community gathering spaces and housing for artists and interns, this new center will surely be an anchor for the re-energized Ancram hamlet,” Assemblymember Barrett told The Columbia Paper by email.

For more information contact AOH at 518-329-0114 or visit www.ancramoperahouse.org.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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