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Arts & Entertainment

Pocantico Prize for Visual Artist Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski Opens ‘Community Day’ at David Rockefeller Creative Arts Center

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May 5, 2023

By W.B. King–

Rarely are art enthusiasts provided a portal into the often solitary journey of an artiste — gleaning the soul-searching process that eventually yields innovative creations designed to invoke spirited emotions.

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“Any introduction to art throughout my life was due to public libraries, public schools and community events,” Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski told The Hudson Independent. “So any time I get the opportunity to open a studio space, I enjoy it.”

In March 2023, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) announced that DeJesus Moleski was awarded a $25,000 grant and a two-month residency at The Pocantico Center, a cultural venue and conference center on the former Rockefeller family estate in Tarrytown.

“Hopefully, opening the studio breaks down the illusion ‘[that] art is the ‘thing’ when we see it, when it’s actually really unkempt and messy and is not fully formed during most of the process of making it,” she said of her art, which is informed, in part, by her Puerto Rican American heritage. “I’m looking forward to connecting with people and grateful for the opportunity.”

The ability for curious and like-minded folks to connect with DeJesus Moleski and her art work will take place on May 20, 2023 during the Pocantico Center’s inaugural Community Day at the David Rockefeller (DR) Creative Arts Center, which first opened its doors in October 2022.

“The David Rockefeller Creative Arts Center has created a lot of excitement about our arts and culture programming, but a lot of folks are still learning about us,” said Elly Weisenberg Kelly, manager of Public Programs and Residencies at The Pocantico Center.

“Community Day is our invitation to experience the DR Center as a fully activated creative space and community resource,” she added. “Guests will be able to engage in a wide range of activities in the gallery, performance space, artist’s studio and outdoor terrace.”

Raga Renaissance

Originally built in 1908 to house John D. Rockefeller’s ornamental orange trees, which were later donated to a number of botanical gardens in the 1940s, the property and structure were under-utilized for decades, Weisenberg Kelly explained.

“The building was essentially used as a storage facility until the Rockefeller Brothers Fund embarked on an extensive renovation in 2018 to turn it into the DR Center,” she added. “The building is a model of sustainability, including solar arrays, a rain garden, and excitingly, a newly achieved LEED platinum certification.”

The free Community Day event, which runs from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., requires advance registration and includes family-friendly performances, hands-on art activities, gallery tours, a visual artist open studio, family yoga sessions, bilingual Spanish-English story time, eco-friendly activities, complimentary food trucks and more, Weisenberg Kelly noted.

Serving as the ensemble to launch the annual Culpeper Summer Performance Series, Ragmala, Brooklyn Raga Massive and the Go: Organic Orchestra’s “supergroup,” will present a free concert after the event concludes. Described by The New York Times as a “Raga Renaissance,” the two groups join forces exploring raga, India’s classical music, and contemporary creative music.

“This celebratory day is an opportunity to enjoy the new DR Center as it was intended: a place where artists and the community come together to develop, present, and experience new works of performing, literary and visual arts,” she said.

Uplifting Art

Explaining that seven artists were considered for the 2023 distinction, Katrina London, manager of Collections and Curatorial Projects for The Pocantico Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, said DeJesus Moleski’s work stood out for a host of reasons.

“Amaryllis was one of the only artists working in the realm of figuration,” she said of the modern art form that retains strong references to the real world, particularly the human figure.

“The focus of her work on uplifting femme, queer and BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) artists and histories was particularly interesting to us since it aligns with the mission of the Pocantico Prize itself,” she continued. “Her practice also seemed to be a good fit for the new studio space, and there are numerous figurative artworks on Pocantico’s campus in many media that we hoped might provide an inspiring setting for her to continue developing her work.”

London further explained that each artist was nominated by leaders in the field of contemporary art from four different organizations across the country.

“The nominators were asked to recommend artists working in the U.S. who identify as BIPOC; disabled; women or gender non-binary; or other groups that have been denied opportunities or recognition and who demonstrate a trajectory of artistic excellence and show promise for further growth and societal impact,” she noted. “A jury consisting of Rockefellers Brothers Fund staff and two outside experts made the final selection.”

Dreams Do Come True

Earning a Master’s of Fine Art from the Yale School of Art and a Bachelor’s of Fine Art from California College of Arts and Crafts, DeJesus Moleski is a 2022 Joan Mitchell Fellow, a 2021 Creative Capital Awardee and a 2019 Kindle Project Makers Muse Award recipient. Exploring themes of hybridity, mythology and sexuality, her works, which utilize drawings, video, sculpture, performance, and installation, have been exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, El Museo Del Barrio and The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, among other institutions.

When DeJesus Moleski learned that she had won the visual arts award, the declaration came as a surprise.

“When I was notified, I thought it was for a nomination to apply for a residency or for an award,” she recalled. “Until I was told, “You got it,’ I had no idea my work was under review. It was wonderful news.”

At the time, she was living with her partner in Brooklyn and commuting an hour each way by train to her studio in Long Island City. The couple has since relocated to upstate New York, although she is currently spending Monday through Friday in Tarrytown, enjoying a shorter commute.

“The DR Center is place that allows me to continue my work and practice. The property is beautiful, and it’s quiet, which gives me the mental space to think,” she said, adding that it’s a quick walk to the studio space. “I’ve been in many different art institutions that have lots of different histories. I’m always really grateful for all the artists like me who weren’t always welcome but gave so much so I could be here. I’m hoping to do that for other people as well.”

When asked how she intends to spend the award money, she said a “good portion” will be dedicated to purchasing needed art supplies and building a studio on her new upstate property.

“The rhythm I have now [at the DR Center] is what I will have when I go home in the summer,” DeJesus Moleski shared. “The goal has always been to wake up, walk to the studio, work and then walk home — it’s a dream.”

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