It is a question that has been asked of me periodically. If indeed Beacon's art scene is now dead, then it was only ever alive in the flurry of press accounts surrounding the opening of Dia:Beacon touting this city's creative promise and in the lofty pronouncements made by Bill Erlich setting a level of expectation for the Beacon Art Society and the Beacon Cultural Foundation.
This is the headquarters of the Beacon Cultural Project [see "Artworld," June '02], founded in April 2002 by William S. Ehrlich, a collector, trained architect and principal in the real estate development firm of Milton L. Ehrlich, Inc., established in 1935 by his father. Ehrlich was one of the earliest Manhattanites to buy in Beacon after he learned of Dia's plans. At the time of the Project's announcement, he raved to the New York Times [Apr. 26, '02], "Once I knew Dia was a done deal, I ran around Beacon and bought everything I could. I'm now Beacon's largest taxpayer. David will be the impresario for culture." That is David A. Ross, director of the Beacon Cultural Project and president of its nonprofit sibling, the Beacon Cultural Foundation. Formerly the director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and, before that, of New York's Whitney Museum of American Art, Ross is now engaged in collaborations between private, public and institutional sectors in a move to foster growth in Beacon. The Cultural Project's aim is to spur Beacon's revitalization through innovative cultural initiatives.
(Art in America, June 2003. by Suzaan Boettger)
The impending cultural shift implied in press releases and assorted travel articles of 2003 creating the notion of artdom's next bastion as a bucolic billyburg in Beacon belie the reality that the true march of progress is slow, and uneven. In addition, the development of a thriving and sustainable creative community must come more from a place of self fulfillment and less from a desire to put on a show that will draw the tourists.
I've been an advocate of working to increase the visibility of the artistic activity in this city, within and without, both for the sense of vibrancy I believe it provides the community, and for the enhanced experience it offers for those living and creating work as artists in Beacon. That said, there's a satisfaction in seeing that certain things take their natural course, defying attempts to engineer a "scene" that will result in an process of gentrification, genetically altered to achieve desired results in an abbreviated time frame while selectively omitting the unpleasant parts. This era of change in Beacon's creative life has thus far been short and uneven; many places have opened and closed since 2003; certain major initiatives have fizzled, and some promising creative endeavors have receded into convention. But such aspects of the very recent history do not erase the glimmers of expectation in new artistic enterprises that are still emerging, or the new energies of folks still moving into the city.
Over the past three years, there have been periods of both stimulating and flaccid activity, but what has existed here, consistantly, is a broad community of artists creating work which finds purchase both near and far. In spite of the promise of a euphoric art frenzy, what has existed is a steady growth of a population of capable, creative people - many from Williamsburg, but many other places as well, and the scene they've created is one that is much smaller than those in terms of public art spaces, but the true nature of the creative environment here is one that is diligent and intimate, with much interaction between artists occuring within their homes and studios.