Beekman Street Arts District celebrates 20 years of success and a vision yet to be realized

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SARATOGA SPRINGS

The Beekman Street Arts Districts will be celebrating their 20th anniversary with a list of events this weekend – 20 years that have seen a western neighborhood revitalized and artists at times falling victim to their own success.

While the founder of the neighborhood, his supporters and local artists tout the benefits the neighborhood has had on improving the West Ward, they also lament how rising rents and limited zoning protections have made it difficult for de many artists create their own space on the street.

This weekend, the district plans to celebrate its 20th anniversary with pop-up artist sales, gallery events, panel discussions, food and music. Activities begin Friday evening and continue through Sunday.

When clay sculptor Amejo Amyot returned to live full-time in Saratoga Springs over two decades ago, she knew what she needed in the city: an arts district. She and a small group of other artists set out to find an area of ​​the city where affordable buildings could be converted into artist studios and galleries.

They eventually landed in the hallway of Beekman Street, an area with a deep history as a mix of residential and commercial areas, which had become largely derelict by the turn of the last century. They began by renovating three abandoned buildings, gained the official designation of the city’s neighborhood, and began to attract artists to the area.

“We call her the Beekman Street Diva, but she really is the Founder,” Cecilia Frittelli said of Amyot. Frittelli runs the Textile Studio, which manufactures hand-woven products, with his partner Richard Lockwood.

The arts districts boasted more than a dozen studios and galleries at one point in the early years, but the Great Recession forced many artists to choose between paying rent for their homes or studios. By the time the performers were ready to return to Beekman Studios, many were out of the neighborhood their presence had helped improve.

“The owners rented it out and by the time the art world recovered, the artists could no longer pay the rent,” Amyot said. “It was the start of a big change.”

Over the years, Amyot owned several buildings in the Arts District, noting that the best way to ensure artists used the space was for artists to own the spaces – which isn’t always an easy proposition. .

“My niece kept saying you have to own the buildings, you have to own the buildings,” she said, noting that her niece worked as an advocate for the arts in Boston.

Fritelli and Lockwood bought their studio and retail space in 2007. At the time, it was a condemned and vacant building that had a long history since it was built around 1850, serving as a general store that sold ice cream under the name Dake’s Ice Cream, the forerunner of the now ubiquitous Stewart’s chain of shops.

After working with a contractor for a year and a half to renovate the structure, they moved their antique looms to the new workspace in the spring of 2009 and opened their store to the public in July.

Antique looms can be found in the main auction room, giving shoppers a chance to see firsthand how the old-fashioned approach to textiles works.

“Everything is done here in-house,” said Frittelli. “There is good karma because we had a good race here.”

Frittelli and Lockwood live in Greenfield, but during the pandemic they often sat outside their Beekman Street store for the chance to interact with other people who live or work in the area.

“We are a close neighborhood,” said Frittelli.

Beekman Street has a long history in Saratoga, serving as a home for Italian immigrant families in the early 20th century and also a home port for many African American families in the mid-century. The historic Frederick Allen Elks Lodge, which has roots in the city’s black community, still anchors the corner of Beekman and Oak Streets. The lodge will host an open mic event on Sunday for people to share stories about the impacts of the city’s “urban renewal” projects of the 1960s and 1970s, which displaced many black residents.

More recently, defenders of the Beekman Arts District have asked for official designation and zoning protections as the city enforces its uniform development ordinance. While the still-ongoing city-wide zoning proposal classifies the neighborhood as an arts and culture district, advocates for the neighborhood have said they hope the neighborhood has been expanded and that Uses would have been more narrowly limited to artists, studios and the kind of shops that generate foot traffic and correspond well to artists.

“We are hopeful that these buildings can return to artistic use in the future,” Lockwood said.

Painter Eden Compton moved to Saratoga Springs about five years ago. She is now president of the Saratoga Springs Arts District. She works in a well-lit room in her studio, showcasing the work of other artists, as well as some of her pieces, in a front room that overlooks the building’s historic porch. Compton will host a gallery opening on Friday for artist Lisa David, who works as an art teacher in the Shenendehowa central school district, showing her life paintings in 1972.

“It’s a real sense of community,” said Compton of the neighborhood. “Although we would like to have more people, it’s nice and calm to work.

She said she might consider closing part of Beekman to car traffic and lighting fires across the road to create a sort of pedestrian mall filled with artists and other street owners. local stores selling their wares. In the meantime, she and others are hoping to attract more tourists and locals to the neighborhood, noting that many longtime residents still don’t know what Beekman Street has to offer.

“I can’t tell you how many people come in and say, ‘I’ve lived here for 30 years and have never been on this street,’ Compton said.

She said studio space is precious and it can be difficult for artists to compete with other potential tenants. “We hope we can bring more artists to the streets,” she said.

Cassie Fiorenza, owner of Collectif 131 at 74, rue Beekman, is part of the new generation of store owners who are settling in Beekman. She opened her studio, which sells a mix of art and goods produced by locals, amid the pandemic. She said the holiday season attracted many locals and the summer season attracted tourists – especially those who appeared to be trying to avoid the trail. But it’s always a challenge to attract people from the crowds that swarm the Broadway neighborhood.

“It looked like a really cool street,” Fiorenza said. “It’s good to be a little bit off Broadway, but part of the challenge is getting people to come here.”

She ran an online business for a while and moved from Hoboken to Albany, where she grew up, during the pandemic. She thought opening her own storefront would cost too much, but found she could make the Beekman Street location work.

“I always wanted to open up a space, but I never thought I would be able to do it,” she said.

Amyot said she believes other artists will find their way to Beekman Street, and she called on city officials to pass zoning rules that will favor the neighborhood.

“I think we are ready for a rebirth,” Amyot said. “City council needs to support an arts district and help us move forward with favorable planning and zoning. ”

Here is the program of activities for this weekend:

Friday from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m .:

  • Ephemeral artists, shops and galleries open late
  • Opening reception for artist Lisa David at Eden Compton Gallery, 79 Beekman
  • Principessa Elena Society Italian Dinner at 10 Oak St., take-out or on-site

Saturday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m .:

  • Live model session open to all artists in the garden of the Eden Compton gallery
  • 20th Anniversary Reception at Living Resources, 70 Beekman Street, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Presentation on the history of the region by city historian Mary Ann Fitzgerald

Sunday, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m .:

  • Erasing Spaces and Faces at Frederick Allen Lodge, 69 Beekman: an open mic allowing community members to share stories about travel during the city’s urban renewal; jazz quartet also to play.

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