Celebrating Olana’s Genii at a Gala Evening in the City

by Melanie Hasbrook

Sean E. Sawyer, Ph.D., Washburn and Susan Oberwager President, The Olana Partnership

Next Tuesday evening, November 17, The Olana Partnership will host the Frederic E. Church Award Gala at the Metropolitan Club in New York City. This event has been a year in the planning and requires an extraordinary amount of my time and that of a number of other staff members. Why do we do it?

Well, the very pragmatic answer is that the Gala is our principal annual fundraising event, responsible for over 60% of our operating income. It supports all aspects of the Partnership’s work – from the curators in the house and landscape, who organize exhibitions and oversee the restoration and conservation of the collections, to our educational and public programs. Its success is absolutely critical to our work.

Yet the Frederic E. Church Award Gala is much more than an occasion to wine and dine for a very good cause. It is also a key opportunity to recognize extraordinary individuals, whose genius advances the fields of endeavor so central to Church’s work – American art, culture, landscape design, and environmental conservation. These are the genii – the guardian spirits of Olana.

This year’s Gala launches Olana’s 50th Anniversary Season, and we have a veritable crop of genii – five Frederic Church Award recipients who represent the breadth of Olana’s story – past, present, and future. Jim Hamilton’s legal work was crucial to the success of the public-private effort that saved Olana from development and preserved it as a historic site in 1966. Martin Puryear has been called America’s greatest living sculptor, and his magnificent work, Question, was the centerpiece of this year’s River Crossings exhibition at Olana. Prof. Jason Rosenfeld is the erudite and articulate Co-Curator of River Crossings. Together, Martin and Jason embody the thought, energy, and spirit of aesthetic innovation that defines Olana today.

Our future resides in the power of the public-private partnership that preserved Olana, has restored its glory inside and out, and, over the next decade, will bring the whole to life. Dr. Lucy Rockefeller Waletzky embodies this fundamental bond between private philanthropy and public good. In her role as Chair of the New York State Council of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, she provides crucial support for Olana’s ongoing restoration, conservation and interpretation as a public property. We will also recognize the public side of our partnership in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New York Parks 2020 Plan, which has reversed the trend of deteriorating parks, providing a multi-year commitment to leverage $900 million in public and private funding for State Parks from 2012 to 2020, the largest capital infusion in the history of State Parks. New York Parks 2020 holds the potential to realize a comprehensive vision for Olana’s future that will include restoring the remaining elements of Church’s architecture and landscape, particularly the historic farm complex, and dramatically enhance the visitor experience across the property.

I hope that you’ll find this as inspiring as I do, and it’s not to late to join us for an extraordinary evening in celebration and support of Olana.