Basilica Hudson A Beacon of Light In The Hudson Valley
Basilica Hudson is many things under one roof: a cutting-edge music and arts venue, a historical site, a net zero building, and a campus for learning about green initiatives. Originally a forge and foundry for steel railway wheels in the 1800s, in the 1980s it functioned as a glue factory, was later abandoned, bought in the 2000s, and taken over by its current owners in 2010.
As the bassist for Courtney Love’s legendary group Hole, Smashing Pumpkins, and Rufus Wainwright, Melissa Auf der Maur has traveled the world as an in-demand musician. Seeking respite from the road, she and her husband, filmmaker Tony Stone, bought a 19th-century house in Hudson in the early 2000s.
From their new home, they caught the glimmer of glass off an industrial structure in the valley below. With their curiosity piqued, they arranged to meet the owner and were wowed by the space. After sharing their thoughts about converting it into a multimedia arts facility, they were pleasantly surprised to learn that he was willing to carry on the mortgage, freeing them from typical operating costs and allowing them to focus on programming cutting-edge events.
Stone and Auf der Maur are the directors of Basilica Hudson, which they co-founded in 2010. She explains how everything coalesced.
“I was born and raised in Montreal. I traveled the world with rock bands for 15 years. I could not have imagined that Hudson would become a defining chapter in my life. Tony went to Bard College but is from a lower Manhattan community of artists. His parents and friends were being priced out and started moving upstate in the 80s.
I was looking to find a home with Tony and start a life together. I didn’t want to live in Manhattan. So we made an interesting geographical compromise. Hudson is a middle ground between Montreal and the city. When he first brought me here, I instantly fell in love. Traveling the world in rock bands, I mainly went to big cities. So, it was a new view of America that captured my imagination and inspired me to get to know the in-between spots in the USA. We bought a beautiful 1850s house in Hudson overlooking the river, mountain, train station, and 1800s factory. Our house looks at Basilica. I was instantly captivated.
As a Canadian who’s always struggled with where American capitalism had gone wrong, it made me ask, ‘What is that factory?’ At that time, Hudson was incredibly affordable and half empty with beautiful bones. I love that about these mighty little cities that got left behind when manufacturing went overseas. All of these things instantly fascinated me as a socialist, world-traveling Canadian. Basilica became the focus of my relationship with this place and how I can bring the things I deem beautiful to the rest of the world.
The same year we got Basilica, we got pregnant. Basilica and my daughter grew simultaneously. It was a labor of love to make something beautiful for my family, friends, and community.”
Auf der Maur and Stone introduced themselves to the former owner, Patrick Doyle, an eccentric artist. They told him how they’d love to bring arts and culture to the building.
“He met us, and we just offered to do things. He made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. He said, ‘You and Tony are the best people to take this on. I’ll hold the mortgage; you do it.
We did not move to Hudson to find a giant arts center. It found us. We got a gift and got entrapped in a giant project. To this day, he holds this mortgage. It was insane. There was no running water. It was an off the grid industrial relic. He made it possible for us to even consider. I took it as a call of our destiny and thought to listen to the universe. We just listened to the sounds of life and did it.”
For the last 12 years, Auf der Maur and Stone continued following their instincts, pulling from their creative community, and responding to the local environment. They envisioned bringing alternative independent music, film, arts, and culture to an off-the-beaten-path place, and inviting artists who normally work in big cities, to discover a little city.
“Audiences in upstate New York who’d normally experience a regional arts and cultural scene could experience a more international one. So it started as a cultural exchange concept. I knew I wanted to stop traveling so much, but I wanted to bring the things I love from the world to me here. The first year of programming was the year we had our daughter River.
It was very mom-and-pop and still is. We have a small team. However, we’ve formalized things, and we have a great, very active board of directors. We became a nonprofit for the public program five years ago. We’re still very hand-to-mouth. We pay the artists from the tickets we sell. But we’re getting there and have succeeded in the last few years, establishing ourselves with NY State grants, like NYSCA.”
Simultaneous to the arts program is Basilica Green and the net zero campus projects. Stone has a deep commitment to showing how giant old factories can get off fossil fuels and become beacons of the future in regenerative technology.
“He’s envisioning the entire physicality of how to make the building exceptional. Over the next two years, our net zero renovation will allow us to do year-round programming because we’ll have temperature-controlled environments. That’s all his vision and thanks to NYSERDA, a very big green energy grant, we can do ambitious things.”
Basilica Hudson has become known for large music festivals, farm and fleas markets–even weddings.
“That was all erased in the pandemic. We’ve had to rebuild and re-envision ourselves, and that’s where the Jupiter Nights come in,” she says.
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Originally from upstate New York, Basilica Hudson manager Allison Young first became aware of the venue through a friend who connected her with Auf der Maur. As an artist, musician, writer and organizer, Young now works in marketing and programming at Basilica.
Young’s signature project is Jupiter Nights, a new weekly series on Thursdays celebrating regional musicians and creatives through concerts, poetry readings, conversational gatherings, art exhibits, DJ nights and more. Jupiter Nights will serve as a counterbalance to Basilica Hudson’s large-scale events, with a focus on the local creative community.
The series takes place in the newly expanded Basilica Gallery Building, allowing for year-round programming for the first time ever. Each event will unfold in tandem with rotating visual art exhibitions, connected to the performers whenever possible. Admission for events goes directly towards supporting the artists and Basilica Hudson’s mission to be a platform for innovative voices in arts and culture. Young explains the weekly events series.
“We’ve shifted into our smaller gallery building. Right now in the front gallery we’ve launched a weekly series called Jupiter Nights. Thursday is the day of Jupiter. I’m curating it with Sam Hillmer. Our goal was to create space to attract artists who wouldn’t otherwise be in Hudson. The city of Hudson suffered a lot in the pandemic, so there aren’t as many shows. We want to have more regional and hyper local shows combined with visual arts connected to the performers whenever possible, which is a really cool way to see their expression fully realized. We’ll start back in September.
We want to keep the price range around $10 to be accessible to more people. If that’s ever an issue, we encourage people to contact us. Every week is different and special. I’m not sure we’d be able to pull off what we do in New York City. Up here we have more freedom and space.”
Regarding the charms and challenges of working in a massive, historical space, Young says, “It’s always a bit of a gamble, which is what’s nice about programming in a smaller space, it’s more controllable. Our priority is making people feel safe with security, barricades, ample staff, signage, crowd control, and temperature in the summer. Safety is key. Parking, logistics, lighting, and sound are also key. That can get quite expensive. The gallery building has an in-house light and sound system that works for a smaller space, but in the main building, we need a much bigger setup. That’s also the joy of it, seeing the industrial skeleton lit up. It can be great for a punk show, a cute market, etc. Recently, we had the Albany Symphony, which was a totally new experience.”
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Green Advisor Sonia Skindrud discovered Hudson and Basilica in 2015 when she saw that they had a music festival called Soundscape. Coming from a west coast underground music scene, she recognized that the curation at Basilica was unusual and special.
“It blew my mind with an impressive curation of film, music and art. I was a fan and attendee. They learned about my background in music and educational development and invited me to join the board. With Basilica’s 10-year anniversary in 2020, we wanted to expand our green initiative, and I joined to the team to help with that and more. For me, Basilica is a place where my interests and values in arts, environment, and community come together. Even more so through the pandemic.
One of our goals is to really think about how we can be of service to our community while being aligned to our mission. This season, we have pivoted away from larger destination events and focused on the exceptional local arts series that Allison and Sam Hillmer are curating.
This is an interesting moment because we held a groundbreaking event for our Net Zero Renovation Project last fall. Our campus is going to be transformed, winterized, pulled off of fossil fuels, and be able to be used year-round. As a long-time member and board member, it’s a bittersweet moment because we’re saying goodbye to the raw space as it has been while welcoming new exciting possibilities.
We’ve received a variety of grants from NYSERDA and others to winterize windows, doors, and the roof, insulate, and expand our solar which we’ve had some of from the beginning, so we can get completely off of fossil fuels. We’re going to use heat pumps and induction in the kitchen. We are programming now regularly out of the front of our secondary building which can continue while construction proceeds in other areas of the campus. Renovating this historical campus is a big project that has proven interesting to the state because it involves arts and culture, historical preservation, and green building technologies. We hope the project can serve as a helpful, instructive and inspiring model to others.”
On September 10, Basilica will hold a benefit concert for its Basilica Green initiative, which will present an evening of collective performance and conversation featuring: Melissa Auf der Maur, CAConrad, Devesh and Veena Chandra, Rebecca Foon, Jim Krewson, Rudy Shepherd, Jesse Paris Smith, TROUBLE, and Patrick Watson. GET TICKETS before it sells out!
A critical and expanding program, Basilica Green demonstrates Basilica’s mission to increase climate action through innovative and cultural programming by presenting and developing new public programs, localized green initiatives and new strategic partnerships to foster equity, environmental stewardship and sustainable community development in the City of Hudson and the surrounding region.
In addition to creating dedicated space for climate action, the Basilica Net Zero Campus Project will include opportunities for educational programming, green workforce development and new public greenspace in the City of Hudson for residents and visitors alike.
Recalling earlier days of Basilica and looking ahead, Auf der Maur, says,
“In 2020 when we turned 10, we made a commitment that the climate crisis, which is the greatest existential threat to our existence, was going to be the priority mission within the arts center. So we work in the context of the arts center with a focus on climate advocacy for renewable energy and every other thing we’ll need to implement in the coming years to protect our environment and planet.
The pandemic allowed us to really engage in our community and our Basilica Green Project.
When we saw the rush of new communities to upstate NY and Hudson’s massive, fancifying development, I realized there’s fewer places for local alternative musicians and artists and local people because everything has become very weekend tourist oriented. So we got inspired to shift out of our weekend schedule. 50% of our audience has always been out of towners. Now, shifting our format, and empowering Alison who’s a young creative living and working in Hudson, let’s start more weekly programming and get people in every week and maybe be a place for the creative community that live and work in Hudson Valley.
We also get economic development grants with the DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) that NY State does to rebuild often the beaten track downtowns. Basilica manages to embody all of it: economic, green, arts, and historic. I’ve always credited the location and the building, which are the muse for everything. Anyone who enters is instantly in awe and their imagination goes wild. They think, “what can I do here? Weddings, parties, raves.”
The building has inspired the mission and I always used to say the building is the muse. We have an artist residency program called The Hudson is the Muse, where I’ve asked artists along the way to build work in and around the location, site specific inspiration. As we get into this next decade I’ve been shifting to think of the building as a teacher. Arts, economics, the green and historic aspects are all teaching tools for the future. What do we want our future to be?
So the building has shifted from being the muse and an inspiration to being a more grown up and mature teaching tool in those areas. I’m excited to expand in that direction in the next few years.
A lot of what we want to do is build educational opportunities around the building becoming a net zero campus. Not only during the construction but also in the aftermath. So come walk the building and understand technology at its finest. Historic restoration and green renewable energy. We’ve been listening to the location for all the possibilities.
Really the goal is to engage and inform people around climate but through the beautiful power of arts and community because the scientific doomsday which of course is relevant and important can be really alienating and depressing, especially to young people.
So how do we use inspiring tools of hope while also focusing on human gathering and artistic endeavors to enable joy in this time of uncertainty? I’m thinking of my daughter, her generation and future generations. We all know that in hard times, art and people communicating is what gets you through it all.
If we can work in tandem with the solutions and questions around the climate crisis while also honing in on the beautiful arts and connection that humans can share, I feel like we’re offering the future a tool to survive.”
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BASILICA GREEN BENEFIT CONCERT
Basilica Hudson, 110 South Front St., Hudson, NY
September 10 | DOORS 7 PM
Presented by Basilica Hudson and Pathway to Paris
An evening of collective performance and conversation featuring:
Melissa Auf der Maur, CAConrad, Devesh and Veena Chandra, Rebecca Foon, Jim Krewson, Rudy Shepherd, Jesse Paris Smith, TROUBLE, and Patrick Watson
“There is no global problem more urgent than the climate crisis, and no power greater than the universal language of radical creativity to awaken our spirits to take action. This event is aimed towards celebrating beauty and possibility. This event is the action in and of itself, a coming together of creative humans to inspire and be part of the healing solutions already within reach.”
– Melissa Auf der Maur, Basilica Hudson Co-Founder and Director
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Inside+Out Upstate NY Contributor Mike Cobb is a writer, musician, and producer.
Photos Courtesy of Basilica Hudson: Featured photo by Eric Harvey Brown, Melissa Auf der Maur headshot by George Holz, Allison Young headshot by Anna Victora, other photos by Samatha Marble and Peter Galgani