20 of the Best Places to Explore Art in the Capital Region
by Kirsten Ferguson
photos by Andrzej Pilarczyk and Rob O’Neil
The Capital-Saratoga Region may not have a Met or a MoMA, but the area boasts a wealth of places to experience art—from nonprofit spaces like Saratoga Arts and Albany Center Gallery to edgy spots like Collar Works in Troy that seek out unconventional work by contemporary artists.
“People need to be tourists in their own community and venture out to explore what the community has to offer,” says Tony Iadicicco, executive director of Albany Center Gallery. “You don’t necessarily have to travel to other cities to experience world-class art.”
Below are 20 great places to explore the region’s arts scene—from private fine art galleries to nonprofit spaces that merge art and innovation.
Giving back to the community is a core part of the mission at Spring Street Gallery, a nonprofit gallery and performance space in a former brick church that promotes the arts as a means of social and civic engagement. At the end of March, the gallery wrapped-up its third annual benefit for Saratoga’s “Code Blue” homeless shelter, an open-call exhibit that invites regional artists to submit work they create specifically for the show, based on a single-word theme (this year was “winter”).
“We want artists to think about the show and how they want to give back,” says Belinda Colon, gallery installation manager and producer. Given the high cost of rent and real estate in Saratoga Springs, private art galleries can have a hard time surviving, Colon says. But nonprofit and multi-use spaces like the gallery—which often collaborates with other area art programs—have more freedom to showcase less commercial art. “We try to use the gallery as an experience for people,” Colon says.
Colon recently started Art Sheet (theartsheet.org), a new online resource to help artists and art patrons find out about area happenings.
At the corner of Broadway and Spring Street, Saratoga Arts is another vital multi-use art and performance space with a mission of supporting artists and making the arts accessible to the community. The organization hosts First Night Saratoga—the annual citywide New Year’s Eve celebration—as well as classes and workshops for artists, and frequent exhibits in its Broadway building as well as offsite in public places throughout the region.
The Tang Museum at Skidmore College is both a home for contemporary art and a teaching museum, involving faculty and students as curators and advisors on large-scale projects that cross time-periods and disciplines. The Tang also originates significant survey exhibitions featuring major emerging and established artists.
The Downtown Marketplace on Broadway houses three private art galleries, including AMP Galleries an artist-owned business that hosts glass-painting classes with Nancy Magnell and features an eclectic group of artists, including local glass artist Gary Zack and equine photographer Sharon Castro. Abstract equine painter Frankie Flores and highly regarded local painter David Hill have their own galleries across the hall.
For the 46th year this summer, the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council (LARAC) will put up one of the largest outdoor juried art shows around, representing 170 regional artists and craft-makers in downtown Glens Falls’ City Park over Father’s Day weekend (June 17 and 18). The June Arts Festival corresponds to the mission of LARAC, which supports the arts communities of Warren, Washington and northern Saratoga counties, says festival coordinator Philip Casabona. The event brings 15-20,000 people downtown each year to check out the artisan works. “For a lot of the artists, that’s how they feed themselves,” Casabona says of the chance for artists to exhibit and sell their wares to such a large audience. LARAC’s Lapham Gallery, located in a renovated carriage house next to City Park, is open all year and hosts seven exhibitions with local, regional, and national artists.
OTHER SPOTS TO EXPLORE:
One of the region’s best art museums, The Hyde Collection is worth the trip up north alone, offering an important collection of European and American works as well as critically acclaimed exhibits featuring renowned artists like Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell and Christo & Jeanne-Claude.
The Shirt Factory is a labyrinth of shops, artist studios and gallery spaces in an old manufacturing facility in downtown Glens Falls. Wander the three floors and peek into artist studios (some artists post visiting hours), browse antiques and Iranian art, and check out the North Country Arts Gallery, a
nonprofit cultural organization that promotes North Country artists.
Part of the Lake George Arts Project, the Courthouse Gallery is a highly-regarded space that mounts six exhibitions a year of regional and national visual artists in all media. Located in Lake George’s historic Old County Courthouse, the gallery has been called one of the best in the area, presenting thoughtfully selected exhibitions of contemporary art.
Troy is buzzing with creative and entrepreneurial energy, says Elizabeth Dubben, the executive director of Collar Works, a gallery and nonprofit arts collective located in a refurbished brick warehouse overlooking the Hudson River. Collar Works collaborates and shares the building with the Hudson Arthaus—a housing development consisting of renovated loft-style apartments geared toward artists and other creatives.
“When I think of experimental and edgy artists and musicians doing interesting things, Troy is just exploding,” Dubben says. She has a slate of innovative programming planned for the gallery in months ahead, including pop-up shows, musical performances during the city’s monthly Troy Night Out, and “Collard Greens” dinners that pair delicious food with conversations about art.
As a gallery, Collar Works leans toward contemporary and more conceptual work, striving to showcase a range of mediums. “We really try to have a fresh take on what’s happening in the arts community and be a platform for artists who are creating more challenging works,” says Dubben. “We want to be an outlet for artists to take risks. That’s where some of the most exciting things happen. People leave here inspired.”
OTHER SPOTS TO EXPLORE:
“Make art here” says the sign in front of the Arts Center of the Capital Region, a nonprofit space in the heart of Monument Square that offers classes in everything from digital art and film to writing and woodworking. Look to new CEO Elizabeth Reiss to bring exciting programming to the center’s galleries.
Walk past the unassuming brick entrance to the Photo Center of the Capital District on River Street and find yourself in another world—a world dedicated to the art of photography. Run by founder Nicholas Argyros, the center is part gallery and part museum, with a treasure trove of antique cameras on display, a library of photo books, and prints by Capital Region photographers for sale.
Established in 2001, the Martinez Gallery on Broadway is a contemporary art gallery focused mostly, but not exclusively, on Latino and Latin American art. The gallery displays important established artists as well as emerging artists of promise.
The Sanctuary for Independent Media, in a historic former church in north Troy, hosts world music performances in its intimate space (including celebrated African musician Salif Keita on April 2), as well as groundbreaking films and speakers. The sanctuary also has an Underground Gallery to display visual art from artists who are oft-neglected by the mainstream.
In January, Albany Center Gallery reopened in downtown Albany in the recently renovated Arcade Building, which also includes the sleek and popular Stacks Espresso Bar. The spot is the gallery’s fifth home in 40 years, after a rent increase forced the nonprofit art space to move from its previous Columbia Street digs. That’s fine with executive director Tony Iadicicco, who says the move will help the member-supported gallery better serve regional artists and the community in a high-profile, 2,000-square-foot space. Part of the gallery’s mission is supporting the local creative economy through artist development—“creating opportunities for creatives to actually live off what they’re
doing,” says Iadicicco, an artist himself.
OTHER SPOTS TO EXPLORE:
Albany Barn is a nonprofit arts cooperative that opened in 2013 on North Swan and Second streets in the long-vacant St. Joseph’s Academy, which was renovated into studio apartments priced on a sliding scale for artists, along with common creative spaces that allow the artists to live where they work. The Barn hosts classes, exhibits and performances.
On the Sage College of Albany campus, the 7,400-square-foot Opalka Gallery showcases modern and contemporary art and design from nationally recognized artists—frequently hosting lectures, films, concerts and other events in a 75-seat lecture hall in conjunction with exhibitions.
One of the oldest museums in the United States, Albany Institute of History and Art features nationally significant collections documenting the life and culture of the Upper Hudson Valley region from the late 17th century to the present day, including many famous Hudson River School landscape paintings.
ALSO WORTH A VISIT
Outside Saratoga Springs in Schuylerville, The Laffer Gallery is one of the region’s best private fine art galleries, showcasing nationally and regionally recognized contemporary artists, run by area artist Erik Laffer.
Further east on the way to Vermont, Salem Art Works is an art colony and sculpture park on the grounds of a former dairy farm, with a glass shop, wood shop, welding bay, print studio, foundry and ceramics studio. The place cultivates a free-spirited, hands-on ethos and hosts art shows, music and events.
In Schenectady, Union College’s Mandeville Gallery has a permanent collection of Asian and ancient art well worth viewing, as well as incisive current exhibits.
Kirsten Ferguson is the arts editor of Saratoga Living.