AHA! 706 | Stef Halmos of Foreland
Foreland is an 85,000 square foot arts campus in Catskill, NY, that includes galleries, studios, and event spaces. The campus buildings were originally mills that produced uniforms for Union soldiers during the Civil War. Artist and Foreland's founder, Stef Halmos, has reimagined the space as a mecca for the contemporary arts world.
- So, tell us a little bit about Foreland.
I know you bought this large building complex in 2017
and it's been in development since then.
But what is Foreland? Just for our viewers.
Foreland is a contemporary arts ecosystem.
With about 30 some odd artists' studios.
We have multiple exhibition spaces.
We have a special events space.
We have food and beverage.
And it's a campus that's spread over
three historic structures that were built in the 1800's
and have since been rehabilitated and renovated.
'Cause they used to be mills.
Right? - Exactly right
For soldier uniforms, is that right?
They were built during the Civil War
and they served to produce the union soldiers uniforms.
- [Lara] Amazing
- The Yankees.
- [Lara] Yeah. - Yeah.
- [Lara] Yeah.
That's amazing. - It's really cool.
- I've seen pictures of this space
and it's beautiful, first of all,
and it has this very kind of simple, natural beauty
that I think evokes upstate New York very much.
Is that why you chose these mills
as the birthplace for Foreland?
- No, I've always loved old buildings.
and I love architecture.
I love design.
And there's a long history of artists
inhabiting and then by their nature,
rehabilitating old or abandoned structures
and kind of creating colonies in these spaces.
And when I saw this particular,
our flagship building, the big building,
I just fell in love.
- [Lara] Yeah.
- And yeah it is. It is.
It's like a big beautiful Catskill mountain.
- Yeah. Yeah.
You know it's interesting,
you're talking about having this sort of love
for rehabilitating something that is beautiful,
I know that you're an artist yourself, is that correct?
- [Stef] Yeah.
- You make your own sculptures
and you have a studio at Foreland-
- I do. - [Lara] Itself.
- I've seen pictures of your artworks
and they're really awesome.
I mean, they're really play with texture and form a lot.
Tell us a little bit about how
you started making these sculptures.
- I mean, I worked in photographs for the longest time.
And then I had my studio lost in Hurricane Sandy.
And I really think that was the impetus
for looking for something permanent.
I think it sent me on a quest for permanence
and for something bigger than just
going into my studio and making these kind of fragile
images and objects.
So I started to build these big, kind of, clunky sculptures.
And, for some reason I just really fell in love
with the figuring out how to orientate myself in space.
And that's how I ended up coming
to do a giant development, I think.
- Yeah. Yeah.
I mean, as a practicing artist and as someone who's,
I know you've gone to Miami University
and California College of the Arts
for your education in the arts.
You know, now that you're kind of stepping forward,
not only as a practicing artist,
but also to create a space
where you're supporting whole communities of artists,
what's one thing, or maybe even two things,
that you wished you had learned
when you were going to college and learning about art.
- Yeah I mean, honestly,
I think a of the things that I learned,
especially in my Master's degree,
I had to unlearn after my Master's degree, oddly.
- Like what for instance?
I don't like art speak.
So, I had to get out of art school
and remember how to start talking about my work,
just from my gut.
- [Lara] Right.
- Just like, two people having conversations,
not one person and one robot having a conversation.
- [Lara] Right
I mean, an art speak is something you can,
it's kind of like something you learn in art school,
but it's also sometimes you,
something that you see on the wall
printout of an exhibition - [Stef] Exactly.
Right? - Exactly
- [Lara] And these,
these fancy theoretical terms, - [Stef] Exactly.
that's art speak.
- Exactly right.
And I think that strips a lot of the intimacy away
of what it is to be a working artist.
And I am someone that really believes in gut as guide.
That's how I root my practice I would say,
as a working artist.
So, but to get back to your question,
I really think the biggest thing that I would teach
if I was, wanted to be an educator,
or what I would encourage more Master's programs
and Undergrad programs to do,
is to talk about entrepreneurship with artists.
Because that's what you are.
You're your own,
you do your own marketing, your own accounting.
I mean, you have to understand the art market
or you can't kind of compete.
So a lot of us come out of art school being great artists,
but terrible business people.
And you need to be both,
which doesn't sound very fun or sexy, but it's true.
Yeah, you know,
it's interesting you say that stuff
because I think the common perception,
even I think sometimes among artists themselves,
unfortunately, is that,
well artists and business people
are two different categories or breeds of humans.
(both laugh) - Sure. Yeah, totally.
- The two don't merge.
But, what you're revealing is that
actually, you're going to art school to make art
and then sell your product.
I mean you're selling what you make
and art has always been sold.
Right? - Always
- That seems like a really important thing there.
That they are not actually,
the artist is actually a business person at heart.
They're just not given the tools.
It sounds like - [Stef] Yeah.
- A great artist and a great business person,
one doesn't preclude the other.
And, in fact, I think it's
that I spent decades as a working artist,
that really helped me stand my ground and figure out
how to become a developer.
I mean I'm not,
it's just me on these big giant construction sites,
just surrounded by men and hardhats
calling shots. - [Lara] Yeah.
And the way that I did that
is by being a good artist I think, honestly.
That was the root of it all because I knew what I need.
I mean, what needed to be built.
I knew I could look at floors and say,
we have to save these floors.
No, we shouldn't cover these floors.
Let the artists have these floors.
These hundreds of year old planks.
I just knew that artists would love it.
So it was my guts as an artist
that helped me be a good developer but,
the developer is going to teach me
how to live in the art world better.
- [Lara] Yeah. - Yeah.
- That's fantastic.
And I know there,
there have been other people from outside
these artist communities
and even just going within it
that have taken interest in Foreland.
I know New York representative Antonio Delgado
visited the site earlier this April.
And that some politicians are now
finally seeing the arts as you know,
these art institutions,
rehabilitating spaces into art spaces,
as vehicles for promoting the economy
in upstate towns and cities.
How do you see Foreland playing a role
in Catskill's economy in the near future?
- That's a great question.
And it's a really important one to me.
I think Foreland is part of a rising tide
and rising tides lift all boats.
So Foreland now,
you take 85,000 square feet that was not being used.
It was just darkened windows.
And you fill that up with people.
Main Street is going to continue to come alive.
The businesses that were on Main Street
before Foreland, after Foreland,
they're going to be full of new patrons.
So that's huge, but more regionally, also.
We have swells of artists that are leaving city centers,
looking for more utopic ways of working
or places where they can raise young families,
own a home and be a working artist
and have access to good economic drivers
that are larger cities, let's say,
and they need studios.
So Foreland is the only place like it
within a hundred miles.
And I think it'll really regionally
be a very cool destination.
Not just for tourism, but for the artist, for the arts.
- What kinds of programs do you have coming up
that people can look forward to in August or September,
further down the line?
- We have Rachel Uffner Gallery and Mrs. Gallery.
They're doing a joint exhibition
in our Water Street galleries,
which is this big, beautiful 400 or sorry,
4,000 square foot space.
- [Lara] It's hard to wrap your head around a space
quite that large, right?
- I just, I always forget.
I put myself in the building
when I talk about the building to remember where I am.
And that's opening August 14th.
That'll be open Saturdays and Sundays through mid September.
And then we're doing a big public launch,
which will be,
we're hosting a giant exhibition
by New Art Dealers Alliance, NADA for short.
And there will be over 84 galleries
and over a hundred artists
exhibiting their work all throughout the campus.
- [Lara] Wow.
- So you come in one place and you end up exploring
every single inch of the building and seeing work.
And that is happening August 28th and 29th
from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM.
- That is-
- [Stef] Free and open to the public.
- Free and open to the public.
- I know awesome is kind of a lame word,
but it is truly awesome, you know?
- Awesome in the fullest sense of the word.
- [Stef] In the fullest sense of the word.
And then you get the added benefit of getting to see work
installed in these spaces
and see how the work activates the space
and the space activates the work.
And I think it'll be really something special.
- Amazing. That sounds inspirational Stef.
- Yeah, I hope you'll come.
- Yes. Yes, absolutely.
I think everybody's going to be looking forward
to checking out what Foreland has in store for us.
So thank you so much for being on A House for Arts.
It was such a pleasure having you.
- It was a pleasure having you, too.
Or wait, it was a pleasure talking to you.
Can we take that one back?