The town of Beacon, New York, has seen many residents pass through during its long years in existence. Settled first by the Dutch, and later the English, Beacon came to prominence during the Industrial Revolution as the "The Hat Making Capital of the U.S." At one point, it boasted almost 500 hat factories inside city limits. Attracted by well-paying jobs and a veritable Babel of international workers, the town was certainly one of the most diverse and thriving areas in the Hudson Valley (though it could never have been called cosmopolitan).
Like many similar industrial towns across the U.S., the 1970s brought on an unprecedented economic downturn, causing a sizable chunk of the population to flee, bringing along with it much of the culture and commerce. Though for many years the area teetered on the brink of extinction, its newest residents have been helping to put it back on the map with a new, creative vibe. Artists, weary Brooklyn residents, and young creative class families enticed by cheap rent, good schools, and a close proximity to the nearby art world of New York City, appear to be here to stay.
As part of a Renaissance ushered in by the opening of Dia:Beacon in 2003, which acts as an outpost of Dia:Chelsea, Beacon has been flourishing with an abundance of small businesses, charming eateries, and intriguing young galleries.
Just a quick hour and a half outside of New York City, the best way to reach Dia:Beacon is via Metro-North’s Croton-Harmon line. Conveniently trailing the length of the Hudson River, this leisurely train ride taken at the right time of day provides the kind of exquisite views of the Palisades, and front-row seats to epic sunsets, that make a visitor understand the appeal of this lush slice of land to the original colonists.
On a recent Saturday, Dwell ventured up to Beacon for a day of art, intimate coffee shops, and a peek at a town only slightly changed by time.
Our first stop in Beacon was to visit Dia, where we spoke with Managing Director Susan Baton, to find out more about the decision to open such a challenging and design oriented museum in such an unusual location.
What was the impetus for using Beacon as the site?
Dia pioneered the conversion of industrial buildings for the installation of contemporary art—a practice and aesthetic now widely adopted by museums and galleries internationally. Dia:Beacon was a former Nabisco printing factory. It offered expansive spaces that were uniquely suited to the needs of our collection of large-scale installations, paintings, and sculptures. In keeping with our history of single-artist, site-related presentations, each gallery was designed specifically for the presentation of one artist’s work.
How have you seen the area change since it opened?
Beacon has grown into a cultural destination and we like to think we helped make this possible. We work closely with Beacon City School District to develop an extensive Arts Education Program for their students; it is estimated that we pump more than $12 million into the local economy; and last year we brought over 75,000 visitors to the area.
Are there any events or exhibitions planned for the fall visitors should know about?
Yes, we have a busy fall season planned. Opus + One, first comprehensive exhibition in North America devoted to the work of Paris-based artist Jean-Luc Moulène, and Circa 1971, a selection of video and film works by key figures in early video art from the collection of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), are on view until December 31. Also, each month we host a gallery talk and October 13 is our next Community Free Day, which provides free admission to residents of Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester counties.
If someone who was design oriented visited for the weekend, where would you recommend they stay over night, or places they should also visit?
The newest place to stay in the area is the Roundhouse, which will open hotel rooms in 2013; the Rockwell Group–designed restaurant and lounge are now open. Similar to Dia:Beacon, the Roundhouse was a former industrial site. I love that most of the design work and furniture in the hotel was created by local artisans, including woodwork by Jessica Wickham, and glass by Niche Modern and Hudson Beach Glass. Manitoga/The Russel Wright Design Center is in nearby Garrison, about seven miles south of Beacon.
Are there any restaurants that you or the rest of the staff of Dia:Beacon often go to?
Absolutely, staff patronize local establishments, and recommend them to visitors, and like Homespun, Amarcord, The Hop, Beacon Falls Café, Sukhothai, and the Patio at Roundhouse, among others. Beacon has amazing coffee at Tas Café, Bank Street, and the Coffee Shoppe as well.
Would you say there is a growing community in the area of artists and design enthusiasts?
Absolutely, there is a strong creative class in Beacon, and it is growing every day. From artisan-based businesses to graphic designers and fine artists, I am impressed with the quality of the work and its contribution to a creative economy.
Is there anything else you think people should know about Dia:Beacon?
Yes, we will be kicking off our 10th anniversary celebration in spring 2013, so we will have a series of events planned around that, and hope to introduce more visitors to all that Dia:Beacon has to offer.