A changing of the guard took place at the Wassaic Project 10th Anniversary 2018 Benefit this year. The beloved Chair of the Board, Janet Offensend, was honored for her six plus years of service to the organization and Dan Sternberg, the new Board Chair, has taken the helm. Offensend will continue on the Board Development Committee.
Sternberg welcomed community and friends who came to the benefit and expressed deep admiration for Janet Offensend, emphasizing that “Janet is not going anywhere.”
Assemblywoman Didi Barrett conferred a deep honor to Offensend: a citation from the New York State Assembly upon her retirement as Board Chair, referring to her important service in working for a non-profit in New York State which has benefitted the entire region.
Wassaic Project Co-Director, Bowie Zunino, said that the success of the Wassaic Project is a story of place, people, and commitment; she attempted to repress tears as she noted how grateful the directors of the Wassaic Project are to Janet Offensend. Bowie, and her husband Jeff, had lived in the farmhouse on the Offensends’ property while the Lantern Inn was being renovated and she expressed how grateful she is to Janet for taking them under her wing.
Jeff Barnet-Winsby explained that they had met Janet and Dave before they became a 501 C3 non-profit and that Janet had hosted countless meetings for the group at her home.“We felt so supported by her; she really inspired us to grow,” explained Barnett-Winsby.
When Janet spoke she said that she has tried in a small way to help the organization to evolve, and that the directors and staff have been incredibly committed to the process.
In speaking with our publication she said: “My life has been so enriched by the opportunity to work alongside creative, energetic, passionate, and committed artists, helping them to move their dream forward, steadily, year by year.”
“During the years that I chaired of the board we developed the administrative and financial systems, as well as the fundraising support required to sustain growing programs and a larger staff. We focused on raising awareness of the Wassaic Project through our marketing, and undertook a business planning process, followed several years later by a formal strategic planning process, which now guides us.
“Today people from throughout the region come to our events. We partner with a growing roster of schools and organizations through our education programs: the residency attracts emerging artists from overseas and across the US, and we are able to offer onsite public programming throughout the year.”
Offensend explained that an important element of the plan is to engage actively with other rural arts organizations nationwide by attending and hosting gatherings of like-minded groups.
“All these groups seek not only to expand the cultural richness of their communities, but also to contribute to rural growth and economic development. We truly believe that cultural vitality is an important key to the revitalization of rural areas.” She said that Dan Sternberg is “a terrific successor as chair, given his smarts, business savvy and commitment to supporting the co-directors. “A ten-year-old organization faces a different set of challenges as it works toward long-term sustainability—Dan is truly the right person for this moment in our development.”
Sternberg, who lives in Millerton, has supported the development of several other non-profits in the region, including the Millerton Farmers Market, as well as serving on the Advisory Board of the North East Community Center (NECC). Sternberg, a retired attorney, had a father who was an artist.
“The artist’s lifestyle and mentality was part of my upbringing,” he explained. “Janet leaves behind big shoes to try to fill. But fortunately she's also left behind an organization that has progressed under her tutelage over the last five years from childhood to, let me say, young adulthood. I look forward to working with a fantastic staff, led by our three founder-directors.”
The Wassaic Project has a growing reputation in the world of arts organizations, especially rural arts organizations, and has developed an ever-deepening connection to the community in Wassaic, as well as the surrounding towns and villages in NY and CT.
“Going forward, I would like, naturally, to see the Project continue on the same trajectory, attracting talented emerging artists to the residency and perhaps even to make their homes in the community, offering public programming that is challenging but also fun and educational, and contributing to the cultural vitality of our community and the region,” continued Sternberg.
The 10th Anniversary Benefit was well-attended by artists, neighbors and the well-heeled. We were able to speak with author Simon Winchester, author of the award-winning The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. Winchester, who has written over two dozen books, once lived in Wassaic and he will be building a house here and returning to the area. He explained that he is on a book tour for his new book, The Perfectionists, and had just given a lecture at the Whitehart in Salisbury. (Below is a video of Winchester speaking on that book.) He said he is impressed with the revitalization of this area and that the excitement of the Wassaic Project was one of the deciding factors for him to create another residence here.
As Sternberg states on their newly-designed website, https://www.wassaicproject.org/, “The Wassaic Project connected a lot of things for me…it was like a missing piece. It fit right into that need to be a part of a community, to help people, to share deeply with them, and to understand what is going on in their lives.”