In 1947, our country was optimistic. The war was over, the baby boom was beginning, and people were leaving cities for a new way of life in the suburbs.
And in Nyack, a village that had seen an influx of creative types, a cultural center was born. Renowned residents — including Helen Hayes, Kurt Weill, Burgess Meredith, and Aaron Copland — scrubbed, shined and transformed a vacant building on Broadway and founded the Rockland Foundation — now known as Rockland Center for the Arts, or RoCA.
With the purpose of sharing locally made art with the surrounding communities, the foundation offered painting, drawing, music, ceramics, weaving, dancing, and writing, quickly outgrowing their home by the 1950s. Enter Maryann Emerson, who donated her 10-acre property on Greenbush Road in West Nyack, where RoCA continues today. The venue now offers visual, literary and performing arts events, education in the fine and applied arts, and community outreach.
Over the years, RoCA has hosted such programs as the inaugural event of Mozart’s opera Bastien et Bastienne with Niles Davies, Jr.; Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, acted by Helen Hayes and Julie Harris; Leading American Sculptors exhibiting Alexander Calder and Jose de Rivera; Works on Paper exhibit featuring Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns among others; and Out Loud, dramatic readings by William Hurt, Ellen Burstyn, Bill Murray, Margot Kidder, and Joan Cusack. Pulitzer Prize-winning writers Toni Morrison and Doris Kearns Goodwin have read their works at RoCA.
On May 7, the center is celebrating its anniversary with a gala at The View on the Hudson. This year’s honorees are: the late painter Richard Pousette-Dart and his wife, Evelyn; sculptor and collage artist Cristina Biaggi; painter and ink artist Norman Galinsky; Julianne Ramos, RoCA executive director from 1984–2016; and Marlene Kleiner, RoCA executive director from 1973–1984, in memoriam. Tickets are $175, and all proceeds benefit RoCA’s exhibitions and its outreach with local schools. Rockland Center for the Arts is located at 27 S. Greenbush Rd., West Nyack. Regular hours are: Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 1–4 p.m. For more information, call 845.358.0877 or visit www.rocklandartcenter.org.