For the Unison Arts & Learning Center to be celebrating its 38th year in existence says something about both the organization and the community who have supported it over the years, says Christine Crawfis, Unison’s executive director. The occasion will be marked by a Founders’ Event on Saturday, September 20 in the Unison Theater at 68 Mountain Rest Road in New Paltz. The cost is $45 in advance or $55 at the door; members pay $40 in advance or $50 at the door.
Last year’s inaugural Founders’ Event at Unison specifically honored the people who have served as president of the Board of Directors over the years, but this time around the evening is intended to recognize all of the people who have made 38 years possible, from the members to the volunteers to the board members, says Crawfis: “It’s really a collective effort.”
The evening will begin at 7 p.m. Gardiner’s Tuthilltown Spirits will supply some potent potables and there will be plentiful refreshments – finger foods, desserts, coffee and wine – buffet-style in a casual cabaret setting with café seating in which it’s easy to mingle and chat.
After a brief program at 8 p.m. acknowledging the importance of the people behind the arts organization, the rest of the evening will be turned over to a performance by folksinger and wryly witty comedienne Christine Lavin. “Christine has appeared here before and she understands Unison, so she seemed like a great fit for our event,” says Crawfis. “She’s a favorite of some of our members. We were looking for someone for the Founders’ Event who had performed here before, understood the energy of Unison and had an appreciation for the Unison community. Christine is a great combination of not only musical talent, but it’s such a delight to watch her perform. She’s funny, she’s casual, she’s easy… It’s a celebratory evening, but we didn’t want it to be ‘serious.’”
Christine Lavin was awarded the NYC Nightlife Award for Best Concert and Cabaret Performer in 2012. She is also the recipient of five ASCAP composer awards and the Backstage Bistro Award for Best NYC Singer/Songwriter of the Year. Betty Buckley, Sutton Foster and Andrea Marcovicci are just some of the artists who have performed her songs.
Unison offers an eclectic array of arts programming, ranging from live musical performances to staged readings by the resident Mohonk Mountain Stage Company (founded by Crawfis), visual arts exhibits in the gallery and sculpture garden, life-drawing sessions and photography workshops, tai chi and qi gong classes, Friday dances with live music and a dance lesson and the popular Sunday Salon series that presents an intimate live performance and conversation with the performer.
Upcoming fall events include Uncommon Ground on Saturday, September 27: an alternative bluegrass group billed as being “on a mission to combine the technical expertise of classically trained musicians with the soul of bluegrass.” The players include longtime veterans of the bluegrass scene Mike Kobetitsch and Wayne Fugate, fiddler Rachel Handman, bassist Phil Helm and Craig Bitterman on a small arsenal of percussion instruments.
Amy Fradon and Leslie Ritter will present their unique “If the Everly Brothers had sisters” transcendent harmonies and sing a mix of original and cover songs in the folk/blues/singer/songwriter tradition from their three acclaimed CDs on Saturday, October 11.
Moustapha Diedhiou, a native of Senegal and a master drummer and educator, will offer an experiential drumming workshop for families on Saturday, October 18. A limited number of drums will be available for playing, but participants are free to bring their own.
The Sunday Salon on Sunday, October 19 will feature Big Joe Fitz and Steve Lewis, and Cleoma’s Cajun String Band will perform on Halloween, Friday, October 31 for the final Fifth Friday Dance Meet-Up of 2014.
As is the case with all nonprofit arts organizations, Unison relies on support from a variety of sources in order to offer its programs. Revenue from ticket sales to live events covers less than 60 percent of the operating costs. Small grants from the New York State Council on the Arts help with funding, but Unison really depends on support from the community, which comes in the form of annual memberships, sponsorships by local businesses, donors and volunteers, who do everything from working the box office to selling artists’ CDs to serving as ushers (which offers the excellent perq of free admission to a live performance).
Unison Arts Center Founders’ Event, Saturday, September 20, 7 p.m., $40-$55, Theater at Unison Arts Center, 68 Mountain Rest Road, New Paltz; (845) 255-1559, https://www.unisonarts.org. Bill Connors is the board chair of the Founders’ Event Committee.