Founded in 1975 as the Unison Learning Community, Unison is located on 13 acres at the foot of the Shawangunk Mountains in the Town of New Paltz, New York. The Unison property was farmed by the Bartz family until it was purchased by the early founders of Unison, including Stuart and Helene Bigley, who own the property to this day. In the early 1980s, the organization transitioned away from its role as a pre-school and began its evolution into Unison Arts Center, a multi-arts performance venue and visual arts gallery space. On the cutting edge from the very beginning, Unison presented poet Allen Ginsberg, Galen Blum, John Herald and was one of the first venues for Playback Theater.
Over the years, Unison earned a reputation as a “Performer’s Favorite.” It has been voted “Best Performance Space” by Chronogram Magazine readers. In 2000, Unison received a Certificate of Merit from the New York State Assembly and a Certificate of Appreciation for Outstanding Contributions to the Arts by Congressman Maurice Hinchey in honor of its 25th Anniversary. In 2004, with the help of luthier Tom Humphrey and financial support from La Bella Strings, Unison began a three year whirlwind of presenting the finest classical guitarists in the world including Sharon Isbin, Eliot Fisk, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, and David Starobin. In 2005, Hudson Valley musicians Natalie Merchant, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, Happy and Artie Traum, Mike and Ruthie, Leslie Ritter and Amy Fradon celebrated Unison’s 30th Anniversary with a Gala Benefit Concert. In 2006 and 2007, Unison was one of the recipients of special funding under the New York State Music Fund series. This two year program enabled Unison to present performances such as Pink Martini, Josh White, Jr., Portland Taiko, Roswell Rudd, Trio Globo, Isle of Klezbos and—in an unforgettable appearance—the legendary Odetta.
In 2012, founding executive director Stuart Bigley retired, after leading Unison for 37 years. Carol Robins stepped in during the transition period as Unison searched for a full-time executive director and in September of 2012, Unison welcomed Christine Crawfis into this role. In the fall of 2014, Alyssa Tullin accepted the role of interim executive director. In the spring of 2015, Heather Ohlson was recruited as full-time executive director to lead the organization. A 15-year veteran of the nonprofit sector, Heather is a long time Ulster County resident and serves as president of the Kingston Library Board.
Unison has over 400 individual members. Its performances, gallery showings, lectures and workshops are attended by over 1,000 individuals annually.
What’s next? We invite you to become a member and be part of it!
In 2008, we had the wonderful experience of working with Mark Tyler Walsh, who will some day be a Sundance Film Festival Winner.
This is a 16 minute film that gives a little bit of history and a lot of reasons to remember why you love Unison. So get comfortable, invite whoever else is around to join you and gather round for (drum roll please) Unison: The Movie. (Maybe you’ll be inspired to make a donation of what a movie tickets costs — or more!)
Enjoy the movie.
To celebrate our 35 year anniversary we assembled this compilation recording to commemorate many of our artists and performances.
Please listen to the audio clips here to sample the CD.
You Got to Know How – Odetta | 3:34
June 2, 2008 at McKenna Theater SUNY, New Paltz
Odetta is accompanied by Seth Farber on piano. This is likely one of the last recordings of this great folk/blues icon. The song was written by Sippie Wallace.
The Rich Irish Lady – Patrick Street | 5:09
November 16, 2007 at Julien J. Studley Theater SUNY New Paltz
A classic Irish song performed by Patrick Street, the Irish super group featuring Kevin Burke (fiddle), Andy Irvine (vocals, bouzouki, mandolin), Ged Foley (guitar, fiddle, vocals) and John Carty (fiddle, banjo).
Slippery Slope – Jay Ungar & Molly Mason | 5:00
April 14, 2007 at Julien J. Studley Theater SUNY New Paltz recorded at the Fiddlers Dream II concert
Jay (fiddle) and Molly (piano) are joined by an all-star band including Liz Carroll (fiddle), John Doyle (guitar) and Peter Ostroushko (fiddle) on this medley.
La Llorona – Lila Downs | 5:54
April 5, 2008 at Julien J. Studley Theater SUNY New Paltz
Mexican singer and Oscar nominee for Best Song for the film Frieda, performed with her full band.
Amazing Grace – Howard Levy | 6:24
October 21, 2006 at Julien J. Studley Theater SUNY, New Paltz
This astounding solo harmonica piece was part of the Trio Globo performance that also featured Eugene Friesen on cello, and Glen Velez on percussion.
Violets of Dawn – Eric Andersen | 4:22
October 9, 2010 at Unison’s Theater
This Eric Andersen classic was performed solo. Brian Hollander also performed at this concert on dobro.
Red is the Rose – Dala | 3:00
June 4, 2010 at Unison’s Theater
Singing a classic Irish piece, Dala consists of two young Canadian singer songwriters Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walther who perform with spellbinding harmonies.
Rusty Iron Bridge – Artie Traum | 3:56
May 7, 2005 at Julien J. Studley Theater SUNY New Paltz
The original piece was performed during Unison’s 30th Anniversary Concert. Artie (lead vocal, guitar) is joined by Amy, Leslie and Beth Reineke (backup vocal), Jay (mandolin) and Molly (bass) and Sam Zucchini (drums) on this piece. Roaring Stream Music (BMI).
Hymn to Her – Amy Fradon & Leslie Ritter | 3:20
May 7, 2005 at Julien J. Studley Theater SUNY New Paltz
The piece was performed during Unison’s 30th Anniversary Concert. This was Amy and Leslie’s reunion as a duo after several years of not playing together. They are joined by Scott Petito (guitar) and Beth Reineke (percussion). The song was written by Dan Uttendorfer.
The Garden Song – David Mallett | 3:55
April 16, 2010 at Unison’s Theater
David Mallett is performing his classic song and is joined by Mike Burd on bass. Cherry Lane Music Co (ASCAP).
Down in the Milltown – John Gorka | 4:20
June 6, 2008 at Unison’s Theater
John wrote Down in the Milltown as a portrait of his home town in New Jersey.
Brazilian Medley – The Assad Family | 8:38
April 2, 2004 at Julien J. Studley Theater SUNY New Paltz
Unison was chosen by Brazilian artists Sergio and Odair Assad (the Assad Duo) to be the site of the first concert of the historic Assad Family US Tour. Performers were Sergio, Odair, Badi, Clarice, Carolina, Rodrigo, Jorge and Ica Assad.
Ndere – Samite of Uganda | 2:56
April 17, 2004 at Unison’s Theater
Performed by Samite of Uganda, this piece is solo voice with effects looping.
La Fundicion – Pablo Ziegler | 8:06
October 13, 2007 at Julien J. Studley Theater SUNY New Paltz
This performance by the reigning king of the Argentine tango is an original composition by Pablo Ziegler (piano) with, Padro Giraudo (double bass), Héctor del Curto (bandoneon), Franco Pinna (drums) and Claudio Ragazzi (guitar). The concert also included vocals by the great Chilean singer Claudia Acuña.
Sweet Gardenia – Betty MacDonald | 6:20
November 3, 2006 at Unison’s Theater
Sweet Gardenia is Betty’s original song in tribute to Billie Holiday. She was joined by Peter Tomlinson (piano) and Jim Curtin (bass).
May I Suggest – Susan Werner | 4:41
April 1, 2005 at Unison’s Theater
May I Suggest is Susan’s original song and she is accompanying herself on the piano. This is the perfect ending to Unison’s compilation.