Ancram Opera House introduces The Ancram Center for the Arts as they expand their campus to include a community meeting room, outdoor areas for audience gatherings pre- and post-show, and housing for artists and interns. A volunteer cleanup day and groundbreaking ceremony will be held on Saturday, September 24.
New York City and Hillsdale-based Ackert Architecture PC has created a design to link the newly acquired property at 1326 County Route 7, to be known as The Annex, with the existing Opera House in ways that are historically sensitive and which integrate current standards for accessibility in both buildings, to create the Ancram Center for the Arts. Both buildings are zoned within Ancram’s Central Business District and are close to the hamlet’s main intersection.
“This expansion is in direct response to community requests for expanded programming and opportunities,” AOH co-director Jeffrey Mousseau explained. “It reflects our already thriving programs, a commitment to sustaining them, and an investment in our future as a vital resource for Ancram and beyond.”
“This project represents so much exciting progress for Ancram, and we really feel the community’s support behind us,” AOH co-director Paul Ricciardi added. “We hope everyone will join in and help us create this really needed community space for all.”
Jeff Mousseau & Paul Ricciardi
The ground-breaking ceremony, which is open to the public, kicks off at 2:30 pm, AOH board chair Cathy Redlich, Ancram Town Supervisor Art Bassin, Assemblymember Didi Barrett, and Mousseau and Ricciardi will all make brief remarks. Weather permitting this will be an outdoor event.
Volunteers are welcome – no experience necessary – for shifts from noon-2 pm and 2-4 pm. Gloves, dust masks, hard hats (kindly donated by Herrington’s Lumber), water, and snacks are provided. To get involved, email [email protected].
This restoration project is supported in part by a grant from New York State Homes and Community Renewal’s New York Main Street program.
The 1,300 square foot, two-story, post-and-beam structure is believed to have been constructed by descendants of the Livingston family in 1780. It has been vacant for some time but is structurally sound.
The Ancram Center for the Arts will be fully accessible. The current administrative office on the main floor of the Opera House will be converted into an ADA-compliant restroom. Ramps, other walkways, and approaches will be designed to provide improved accessibility throughout.
Additional housing for artists and interns will allow Mousseau and Ricciardi to offer opportunities to a larger and more diverse group. “There is a lack of affordable housing in the area so we will offer housing right on the campus,” Mousseau explained. “That simple amenity will enable us to provide opportunities to a broader and more diverse group, not just people who can afford to commute or to rent temporary housing in Columbia County.”
The HVAC system will be replaced to achieve exceptional levels of ventilation and air purification. Last, but not least, the project will address and improve the parking.
Artistically, Mousseau and Ricciardi are committed to community engagement, providing the historic hamlet of Ancram and the surrounding rural area with opportunities to connect through the arts and educational programs.
They also want to position the Ancram Center for the Arts at the forefront in the development of bold new performances for the American theater, created by artists of diverse backgrounds. A commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion in the arts is central to their work; and AOH has welcomed extraordinary artists as Heather Christian, Diana Oh, Stew, and Taylor Mac as they developed new projects.
Mousseau and Ricciardi took over operations for AOH in 2016, transforming it into a professional nonprofit theater, starting out with few resources beyond their passion and determination. Over six seasons, including two pandemic years, they have garnered acclaim from audiences and been the recipient of a Berkshire Theater Critics’ Award.
In 2021, Ancram Opera House produced 90 events, including productions, concerts, and workshops reaching approximately 1,700 individuals through live and virtual offerings. Half of all events were free, consistent with a commitment to making theater accessible to all.
Now, AOH activities extend to eight months of the year, creating opportunities for artists to develop and showcase new work, presenting concerts and readings, and producing two fully staged theatrical productions each year. Riccardi helms an original storytelling program which is now an established part of the curriculum at the Taconic Hills School, supporting their literacy development programs for middle-school students.