For the June Member Spotlight, we spoke with Laura Summer and Nathaniel Williams of Free Columbia, to learn more about their initiative and why they use the Hudson Valley Current.
- Please describe the work you do at Free Columbia.
Free Columbia began in 2009 as a community-supported, community-oriented, cultural and educational initiative. It is located in the heart of Columbia County, New York, in the post-industrial village of Philmont. Free Columbia has developed full-time, part-time, and weekend programs for adults and children in the fields of social theory, studio and performing arts, and nature studies. The heart of the initiative is the cultivation of art, aesthetic education, contemplative inquiry, and action research in a spirit of independence and accessibility.
- What is your background and how did you start your organization?
Nathaniel Williams and I are both artists and we wanted to be culturally active without paywalls. With culture we understood new ideas in all areas: art, science, activism, spirituality, community, and money. We started Free Columbia as a full-time arts year for adults, but it soon grew to include science, action research, performance, work with children, and community building.
- What are the programs that you offer and how were they formulated?
We are just finishing our first year of our new program for young adults, the M.C. Richards Program. It is a one year, full-time course in transdisciplinary learning. We asked the questions: What kind of learning centers do we need to cultivate in a century of unprecedented environmental and social challenges, globalization, and digital revolution?
Are there ways of cultivating understanding that connect us to the rich particularity of the world and that does not blur its limits? Are there ways of learning that support sensibilities of interdependence and connection? There are, and these knowledge practices are at the center of the M.C. Richards Program. We are now open for applications for the 2021-2022 year that starts in August.
- Can you share any exciting projects you have coming up?
On Saturday June 26 from 12-6pm we will have an outdoor Art Dispersal at Basilica Hudson. 110 South Front Street, Hudson NY (rain date June 27). Art Dispersal is an event where we hang up original works of art by professional artists and invite people to become their stewards. They can take a piece home, keep it for as long as they like, as well as return it to the artist if they no longer want to keep it. Stewards are offered an opportunity to make a contribution to Free Columbia. Contributions support the artists as well as Free Columbia.
Free Columbia has run 16 Art Dispersals over the past nine years, with over 750 paintings (as well as other works of art) dispersed to stewards in Hudson, Philmont, Spring Valley, and Manhattan, NY; Eugene and Portland, OR; Los Angeles, CA; New Orleans, LA; and Jarna, Sweden. In 2020 we held our first online Art Dispersal.
The dispersal on June 26 will include over 50 paintings by New York artist Laura Summer and Portland, OR artist Patricia Homan Lynch.
- How did you get involved with Hudson Valley Current?
Over the years we have had colleagues who were part of starting the BerkShares currency in Massachusetts. At Free Columbia we have always been interested in new ways of working with money, so when we found out about the Current we wanted to get on board.
- Why do you use Currents in your organization?
We accept Currents for any of our events, courses, and artworks. Any time that you are offered the opportunity to choose your donation amount you may do so in Currents. We use Currents because we believe in supporting the local economy, community building, and growing independence for people in their endeavors.
- How can our readers learn more about you and your school?