Four Questions With Kyle Patzwahl, Art Omi

Nestled in the woods of Columbia County, Art Omi is a not-for-profit arts organization offering a stunning 200-acre Sculpture Field and internationally respected residency program, in addition to our innovative and expansive education programs. Over 30,000 annual guests enter through the Charles B. Benenson Visitor Center and Gallery, to attend concerts and lectures, view paintings and video exhibitions, enjoy a farm-to-table lunch on weekends, attend Camp, and much more.

ACE met with Art Omi’s Director of External Relations, Kyle Patzwahl, ahead of our August 1st Mixer Event to give members a glimpse into what has made their operation so successful and what to expect when touring the campus. He works closely with Executive Director Ruth Adams, who directs all of Art Omi’s programs..

Kyle parlayed a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Architecture into a career in commercial real estate before joining Art Omi. He proudly states “there’s no need to leave Columbia County because we bring the world to you”, and that’s no idle boast: since 1992, artists from 130 countries have participated in Art Omi’s residency programs. Specialized Program Directors work year-round on planning, selecting and executing their residencies in five disciplines: architecture, dance, visual art, writing, and music.

Location: 1405 Co Rt 22, Ghent NY
Employees: 9 full-time, 37 part-time and up to 20 seasonal
In business since: 1992

How do you draw world-class artists to Ghent for residencies?

Our residencies are unique – we focus on the process behind each of the art forms. We don’t require any participant to complete a project while on campus, which creates a different dynamic than many other residencies by allowing free-form thought and ‘best practice’ discussions to emerge. There are no costs to any artists beyond travel, so they are truly free to explore the campus and consider their work and process. We allow for a lot of open-ended time and work space, while bringing in guest critics to enhance the experience and push the artists in a thoughtful way to achieve something meaningful.

After 26 years are there still fresh hurdles and successes?

Funding is always a hurdle. Federal and State art budgets are being cut, like school budgets following the 2008 recession: art, music and theater are the first things to be cut. Public and private programs rely on these grants to expose children to the arts early in their life. Here, these cuts also impact our operation – we lessen staff to allow more scholarships for kids to attend summer camps or more artists to come to our campus. It is the life of a non-profit: you work hard and take less because you believe in the greater good and continuation of art and education.

As for successes, the staff pitches in to ensure we are moving forward; our success is bringing talented individuals to our team who ask questions and develop a sustainable growth model which will allow us to continue to engage with the community and our visitors from around the world. We pride ourselves on being a community organization – we have a $1.5 million economic impact on the county and Capital District. Buying local products and using local partners may be marginally more expensive but it is important to invest in our community, as they invest in our organization.

What advice would you give to someone looking to work in a creative business?

Keep at it and read. A mentor once told me that if you read on any subject for seven years you can become an expert; you have to find what you’re passionate about and always keep at it. You can’t be timid in the face of failure or adversity. Going in with an open mind and a strong sense of ambition and innovation makes you unstoppable. Be the most positive, have the most energy – people feed off that.

What should ACE members expect to see when visiting Art Omi for the August 1st mixer?

Art Omi is an experience – you will see some beautiful things and interesting things but really it is about discovery. The main public draw is the sculpture park and gallery space which brings well known and emerging artists to the attention of visitors. There is such an energy here when you enter the building – if you are looking to build relationships and connections while discovering great things about yourself and the creative economy Art Omi is on the short list to achieve those things.