The Beginnings of Art Omi

Recently, I was presented with a copy of 20 @ OMI Celebrating 20 Years of Creativity and Community. It is a beautiful book. It is hard to believe that ART OMI has been in Ghent for 20 years. As I started to read, the memories came flooding back.

My youngest son Jon and I had been talking to Francis Greenburger (the father of it all) about Triangle, an artists’ colony near Pine Plains. He sounded like he wanted one of those. At that time Jon was in the real estate business with me and, like Francis, once he got an idea in his head he could not let go of it. He and I went down and studied Triangle and came home with Jon’s idea for the perfect place: the old Bozik dairy barn on Omi Road at Letter “S” Road.

The barn and silo at Omi International Arts Center, Ghent, NY

Francis bought the barn and we had all kinds of ideas about how this could, and would work. It was a huge two-story Quonset-style barn, 130 feet long and 62 feet wide. The ground floor was filled with stanchions, a milking parlor, and gutters the full length of the barn for removing manure. The first job was taking out the stanchions with jack hammers. Then they worked for 24 hours, day and night pouring and troweling a beautiful new concrete floor (a job you can’t stop in the middle of). That was the biggest expense of the renovation.

The huge upstairs was easier to deal with. They put sky lights all over that roof and the light was amazing. Sinks for the artists to use, two bathrooms, and a sort-of kitchen were all the amenities to start. Every year something more was done.

Who knew that every year the artists would fight over the silo for their project. Many beautiful things were accomplished there during the 20 years that followed. One year there was an artist (I think from Australia) who, at sunrise every morning would play music on a didgeridoo in that silo. My husband, who at that time was the studio manager, made me get up and go listen. I am so glad he did. I went often. It was a haunting sound in the stillness of daybreak, and the acoustics of the space made it indescribable. I will always remember it.

There are so many things I will remember. I remember Joanna Przybla from Poland, who wanted to do a huge outdoor sculpture with an enormous dead tree, roots and all. She and I wandered up and down all the streams, brooks, and creeks, looking for exactly what she wanted. It took days, but we finally found it. We talked the Gardina Brothers into bringing heavy equipment over to pull it out of the Kinderhook Creek and haul it over to the barn.

My husband, three sons, a couple of nephews, and anybody else I could find were at the beck and call of the artists. Between them there wasn’t much they couldn’t do. At one point Joanna said to me “how do you expect me to do my work with all of these wild men around?” I said, “get used to them, Joanna, they are the only kind we have.” She learned quickly to appreciate them. They were an interesting group, and so were the artists. They came from all over the world. During their time together they started cautiously, gradually became comfortable and most of them cried at the end, when they parted. I think most of them became diplomats in their own countries. I am sure they learned a lot about “crazy Americans”, country folk, and the cultures of so many other countries.

I realize there is so much to say about the transformation of that old dairy barn into ART OMI International as it exists today. I think I might be tempted to write another installment. One thing I know for sure – when Francis Greenburger takes something on, it works!