Francis Greenburger purchased his first painting at 14. The literary agent and founder of New York real estate firm Time Equities Inc. was ogling artwork inside an about-to-close gallery when he was asked to make an offer on the piece. The young Greenburger responded he had no money, but the owner cut him an appealing deal, letting him have it for just $10. “Since then, I’ve been collecting and living art,” says Greenburger
Much of that passion has blossomed in the Valley, which Greenburger has called home for more than 50 years. In 1992 he opened the not-for-profit OMI International Arts Center in Ghent, which has garnered a world-class reputation for its residency programs hosting artists, writers, dancers, translators, and musicians.
Greenburger initially discovered the bucolic OMI site while working for another arts organization, which was on the prowl for a new location. While that wasn’t the right fit, the site owner kept after Greenburger, encouraging him to buy it by lowering the price. “I told my wife we would own the largest walk-in closet in Columbia County,” remembers Greenburger. When he left the organization, he realized he had an opportunity to build his own artistic vision from scratch on what was then just 40 acres of land.
OMI’s origins were humble, with visiting artists gathering daily in the barn for workshops, then holing up for the night at surrounding neighbors’ homes. Gradually the campus grew to include proper residential facilities and the impressive open-air Fields Sculpture Park. “It was an evolutionary process,” Greenburger points out. Over the past 24 years, more than 2,000 artists from 100 countries have made their way to OMI to hone their craft.
The sought-after residencies are deeply intertwined with the inspiring backdrop of the area. “It’s obviously a different experience than an urban one, working in a rural community and experiencing nature,” Greenburger explains. “The region, from an aesthetic perspective, has long been known for its beauty and natural light, a tradition that goes back to the Hudson River School painters.”
Although OMI makes waves abroad, its impact on the local community is equally profound. The sculpture park — spread over 60 acres of scenic farmland, wetlands, and woods — attracts visitors with myriad large-scale contemporary installations from artists like Haresh Lalvani and Catherine Lee. OMI’s educational programming is also robust, with a sought-after summer camp that immerses more than 350 kids in dance, yoga, and art projects.
Always looking to the future, Greenburger hopes to expand the site’s Charles B. Beneson Visitors Center Gallery. In addition to a slate of concerts, recitals, and lectures, the space will accommodate more indoor exhibitions. The addition of a new residence building also ensures that jet-lagged attendees don’t have to double up in small rooms with strangers.
“It’s infinitely rewarding to spend time with creative people,” says Greenburger. “I feel extraordinarily lucky that I have these amazing talents coming to my front door.”