It’s all about “Community” for David Lyons, Executive Director and Founder of the Bethany Arts Community (BAC) in Ossining and he’s quick to correct anyone who calls “Bethany” an arts center.
“In 2015 I was introduced to the property with a vision of creating an art community. And when I say community, that umbrella is very large. We have 44,000 square feet on 25 acres to work with from performance art, gallery exhibitions to children’s camp and many things in between,” says Lyons who grew up in Westchester and lives in Sleepy Hollow. Maryknoll Foreign Mission Sisters of St. Dominic, who originally owned the property referred to it as the Bethany Rest House. For Lyons, “Bethany,” as he affectionately refers to BAC, is a canvas.
Inspired by Salem Artworks in Salem, New York, Lyons wanted to create a community of artists that not only interacts with each other but with the community as a whole, locally and globally. BAC is a place where all levels of artists can gather to help each other and each other’s art flourish, and to enrich the creative process.
BAC has been up and running since January 2018. Lyons says what makes BAC special is that they were able to take all the individual arts and bring them under one roof: theatre, gallery space, theatre space workshop and children’s theatre. They host Theater O quite often. “We love working with them,” says Lyons. “We’ve expanded everything we’ve done two fold since last year. We ran after school workshops and work closely with Ossining School District.”
BAC has offered workshops in drawing, painting, mosaics, jewelry making and art history classes and hosted such talent as the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, a prominent modern dance presence on New York City and global stages. Their summer camp programs were expanded by two additional weeks this year and BAC was able to offer 11 inner city children full summer camp scholarships.
In September, BAC launched their first signature residency program, a juried selection including 24 lead artists in residency. There were 56 artists and collaborators onsite at BAC over six weeks. The residency program is designed to attract artists at different stages of their careers from around the world. “And there is always a community giveback—a performance, a reading, a demonstration,” says Lyons. “It is an important part and we weigh it heavily.” During their time on site, these artists will develop new works while engaging with local artists and the whole community. BAC attracted artists in residence from around the world–as far as Thailand–as well as hyper local. They received an Arts Westchester Grant to support the residency program
This fall they will host the Hudson River Potters Fall Showcase from November 8-10, have an exhibit in the gallery. They also plan to hold a Winter Solstice Concert.
One idea on Lyon’s plate: A “Seed to Belly” culinary education. “Everyone eats! I want the community to share a meal.” The property has a half-mile trail, replanted orchard, and hives.
A short-term goal is to solidify and shore up the foundations. BAC won a NYSCA grant for infrastructure and they are in the middle of that now. Lyons wants to take what they have and expand it. “Community to me is the world, we started in the local community, the Village of Ossining. We hope to expand to Briarcliff, to Chappaqua, Mount Kisco in a much broader sense, so our community will grow.”
While not an artist himself, Lyons passion for the arts is evident. “A lifetime of things got me started. My grandfather was a patron of the arts. Artists have always been very important to me for different reasons. Ultimately, the core of this and everything I do is for children.”
Lyons is optimistic about the future. “The scope in which we are able to offer in one place makes us unique. We had listening sessions. I said, ‘this is my vision, what do you need? There is plenty of art, plenty of artists and not enough space’.”
He wants to enhance the mission statement and their aim is to inspire sharing, connection and collaboration in a culture designed for the benefit of the local community and beyond. “We’re here, we’ve been growing organically, gaining notice in the world. My feeling is what can’t we do?”
Bethany Arts Community is holding its second annual fundraiser “ART IS COMMUNITY” on November 15 at 7 p.m. Supporters will enjoy an evening of cocktails, food, performance, exhibit, silent auction and more.
For tickets go to bethanyarts.org/calendar/artiscommunity/.
Bethany Arts Community is located at 40 Somerstown Road, Ossining, NY.
For more information go to bethanyarts.org
Photos courtesy of the Bethany Arts Community