The Art of Creative Collaboration
Jennifer Hicks is the creative force behind and artist-owner of Jane Street Art Center, an art performance space in the heart of Saugerties Village, including two galleries, studio space, and artists residencies. The Center’s mission is to find and celebrate local artists, focusing on experimental work and cross-disciplinary projects. As the art is collaborative, so are the artists – many are local from the Hudson Valley, with Saugerties, Woodstock, Kingston, and nearby Newburgh represented in recent shows.
That mission is best exemplified in the Art:Incubated residency program, first launched in 2019. “The goal is not to have an artist come here and show work they’ve done a million times. The goal is to have them try something new,” says Jennifer. Jane Street Art Center offers a space to live and work within a supportive, creative environment in which to create. Former residents have included Michael Pope of Newburgh, who created a large installation at the Newberry building, and locals Christine Allison and Ursula Brookbank, who each did a series of performances. The current residency in progress is by Reese Johanson, a Danish performance artist.
Jennifer, who grew up in a small town in New Jersey, is a painter and performance artist who often visited the Hudson Valley in her college days. For years, it was a dream of hers to move to upstate New York. Following the loss of her father in 2015, and a change in staff at her teaching position at Naropa in Boulder, CO, Jennifer decided it was time to make a move. She came to the Hudson Valley and settled in Saugerties, intending to slow down and focus on her art. Saugerties offered a small-town feel, with a group of incredibly talented residents: world-class musicians, artists, poets, and filmmakers who would meet regularly and share ideas. Real estate prices were affordable when Jennifer came to town, and she thrived on the proximity to nature.
Jennifer never intended to open a gallery – she was looking for a studio, as she says, “and fell into the space at 11 Jane Street.” The building is well-known to the Saugerties locals and steeped in artistic history. Many creative businesses have occupied the space over the past 20 years, including jewelers, dancers, writers, and photographers. What was, at first, a simple renovation uncovered many problems in the building that required extensive structural fixes. As the space evolved, she realized it was too lovely to keep as only her studio. So she created a dual-purpose space: a dance studio in the back with a 2D/3D art gallery in the front. Her studio is now housed upstairs, along with a meeting area and office space.
In undertaking a historic building renovation, Jennifer adopted a “learn as you go” mentality. The process took a long time and came with its own set of ups and downs – rot in the wood, old plumbing, wiring, and windows that were half gone. Jennifer freely admits she knew next to nothing about renovating a building. Her story is a familiar one. She didn’t know how to talk to contractors, and they’d vanish for weeks along with the uncertainty of when they’d return. She found local architect Scott Dutton, who was her lifeline, and with whom she credits preserving the beauty of the old brick and high ceilings and old windows and bringing her vision of an artist’s loft in an old warehouse to life. They had to take the space down to the studs and build it back up again while preserving the beauty of the original space. They modernized the bathrooms, removed drop ceilings and beams, replaced all the windows, and exposed the original brick.
Once past the building phase of stress, then the open a business stress. She set about figuring out bookkeeping and getting artists together, leaving on local resources to help her on her way. She didn’t have a business plan, nor did she know what questions to ask. She didn’t have a website, or brand, or even a business name. But she had a vision, and she knew if she just kept going, she would bring her dream to a reality. Though Jennifer would have preferred a snappier name, she was learning the ropes of building a business and had to pivot quickly between designing a building and running a business, and she needed to quickly get a website and brand live.
And yet, Jennifer is not one to rest on her laurels. Her next ambitious project is already underway–the renovation of the Newberry Building across from 11 Jane Street. This 10,000 square foot space is beloved by the village of Saugerties, the former home of JJ Newbury – a store for basically everything. The iconic mercantile closed about twenty years ago when an antique shop occupied the space. Jennifer acquired the building in 2018 and embarked upon another renovation, yet this time with experience on her side. In addition to the difficulty of working during the pandemic, Jennifer’s desire to preserve much of the building’s historical nature and original character resulted in an extended timeline. However, the business is on track for a Spring 2022 opening. It will be a multi-use space, honoring its historic roots as a retail location, with a marketplace of Hudson Valley-based modern makers, curated art galleries, and a Cafe offering a communal space for locals to work and meet share ideas.
So what’s next for Jennifer and the Jane Street Art Center? She plans to continue the artist residency, build it up even further to promote and support local artists. The Newberry Building expansion is underway, and Jennifer has plans to use the space to launch original programming, including art classes and more local shows.
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Jane Street Art Center
11 Jane Street Saugerties New York