Newburgh has become the hub for a growing number of art galleries, businesses, concert venues, and other community activities. But unlike surrounding municipalities, it wasn’t until recently that Newburgh officially dedicated a Saturday to its booming arts scene. Newburgh Last Saturdays, a grassroots community organization founded by former resident Lisa Gervais, helped consolidate and promote the city’s arts, culture, and business events into one day a month.
The “Last Saturday” concept dates back to the early 2000s, when Art Along the Hudson encouraged Valley towns to designate one Saturday a month to celebrating local artists. After Kingston, Beacon, and Poughkeepsie picked the first three weekends, Newburgh was left to claim the last Saturday of the month. Gervais recalls that Newburgh originally called the event “the River Walk,” which for years saw local artists showcasing their work on easels around the waterfront, typically during the spring and summer months.
Gervais, who originally hails from Marlboro, moved to Newburgh in 2006 and eventually started her own business. By then, River Walk events had discontinued, but as more businesses moved into the city and gained momentum, she saw the opportunity for a similar concept to resurface. Gervais decided to revive the River Walk concept in 2014, renaming it Newburgh Last Saturdays (NBLS). And rather than limit the events to seasonally good weather, Gervais decided to make NBLS a year-round event that could operate out of different venues though the city.
For Gervais, the last Saturday events help focus on the positive things happening in the city, as an opportunity for Newburgh to “showcase itself.” For a time, Gervais says, Newburgh had become like the scapegoat of New York. While she admits that Newburgh, like every city, has less desirable areas, Gervais doesn’t believe that the entire city should be defined by them.
Rather, she says that visitors of Newburgh Last Saturdays will meet “artists, entrepreneurs, and cultural collaborators who are drawing focus to what we do have in Newburgh. They can meet new people, and hear new dialogue on what is happening in the city.” Gervais’ effort to reach outside communities and change their perspective of the city has drawn visitors from Massachusetts to New Jersey.
The key to Newburgh Last Saturday’s success was collaboration, she said. Unlike Saturday celebrations in neighboring cities, Newburgh’s monthly event is intentionally organized and promoted by NBLS, which with the help of volunteers, provides free advertising for local events through its website, newsletters, and various social media. The collaboration goes both ways. Soon after NBLS’s first April event, both SUNY Orange and Space Create deliberately began scheduling their art exhibition openings for the last Saturday of the month. Other local organizations joined, regularly featuring Last Saturday events on their websites. “Everyone who wanted to launch something like a new film on that day… every business that did something like that,” said Gervais, “they are a part of the energy that made [NBLS] happen.”
When Gervais’ husband retired in 2015, the couple decided to move to Arizona. Gervais passed on her leadership role to Middletown resident Meagan Leddy. Leddy started early this year, and with her love for Newburgh, she brings her own aspirations for the organization’s future. “I think we’re going to grow,” she said “I think we want to take it to a point where we can put on our own events.”
The next NBLS will take place this weekend, Saturday, March 25, featuring a spring fashion preview and trunk show hosted by Cream Newburgh at Caffe Macchiato, a glow-in-the-dark art and dance party at Raghaus, and a Pilates class at the Ritz Theater hosted by APG Pilates.