Host/CEO James Prendamano sits down with CEO & President of Snug Harbor, Aileen Fuchs. Topics discussed:
This week, CEO James Prendamano rolls out his 10th episode of the Casandra Properties podcast, sitting down with the witty and optimistic CEO of Snug Harbor Cultural Center Ms. Aileen Fuchs, whom Mr. Prendamano considers a visionary and a forward thinker. Not only has Snug Harbor seen tremendous growth from her presence; she is a gift to the community at large.
Originally, Ms. Fuchs hails from the Westchester area, so Staten Island was kind of a culture shock to her to say the least. However, she says that she’s truly grown to love it here. She went to college in Pennsylvania and completed her graduate work at NYU She admits ‘fine arts isn’t her thing.’ She is all about being resourceful, renewable, and the value to the community.
A kindred spirit of James Prendamano, Aileen Fuchs reports that she’s doing all she can during these crazy times, working hard, adapting, and that’s all anyone can do in this new world, right? James emphatically agrees. Ms. Fuchs now lives just four minutes from Snug Harbor. She spent a third of the money that it would cost to purchase a one bedroom in Manhattan on a home here on the North Shore of Staten Island. She has a four-minute walk to work, has tremendous indoor and outdoor space, and enjoys the NYC skyline as her backdrop.
Snug Harbor is a place where history, architecture, visual and performing arts, gardens, agriculture, and education come together and provide dynamic experiences for all ages. It is one of New York City’s unique architectural complexes and historic landscapes. Majestic buildings of classic architectural styles are home to exhibitions on historical subjects and contemporary art. Snug Harbor’s Music Hall is the one of the oldest concert halls in New York City. Originally, Snug Harbor was founded with the execution of the will of Robert Richard Randall, who died in 1801. The will required the Randall family fortune and estate be used to build and operate a haven for “aged, decrepit, and worn-out sailors.”
In fact, Ms. Fuchs had said to her husband many years earlier when she had first visited first visited Snug Harbor for the first time, “I’d like to work to run that place one day.” At that time she was working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Snug Harbor has 83 acres, 26 buildings, and a two and-a-half acre farm. In 1975, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center was founded. And in fact, it didn’t actually merge with the botanical garden until 2008. The expansive property features sculptures, old and new, Greek Revival architecture, and most notably, is home to the Staten Island Museum, The Staten Island Children’s Museum, The Noble Maritime Collection, the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, and 40+ small businesses and studio artists who operate out of there. “We are the cultural anchor of this borough,” says Aileen Fuchs. Snug Harbor has a way of bringing a ton of folks to this island and is able to get a whole community celebrating in a way we never have before.
One of Snug Harbor’s Greatest Strengths is in its Discovery
The expansive and lush site features an array of buildings marking the changing architectural styles of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The first buildings were built in the Greek Revival style, as well as a second wave of Beaux Arts, Renaissance Revival, Second Empire and Italianate styles. In the mid-20th century, the number of residents dwindled as programs like Social Security and Medicare provided a financial safety net for retired sailors while the Randall endowment started to run out. Historic buildings began to deteriorate and several were demolished in the early 1950s. Fortunately, however, in the 1960s and 1970s, the newly formed New York City Landmarks Commission stepped forward to save the five Greek Revival front buildings and the chapel by designating them as New York City’s first landmark structures.
Ms. Fuchs Highlights Some of Her Favorite Features. . . .
The New York Chinese Scholars Garden was the first built in this country. It was built by hand for six months. I also love the farm. I got the bug for urban agriculture when we were working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Newhouse Center of Contemporary Art.
Let’s Talk the Winter Lantern Festival . . .
Build it and they will com, and that’s what they Snug Harbor did with their fantastical, professional landscape known as the Winter Lantern Festival. We drew 150,000 people to our borough over six weeks. It was the largest cultural event ever on Staten Island. James refers to it as a Disney-like experience. And if you’ve attended, you know exactly what it means. It was absolute magic and splendor, especially around the holiday with families.
The Challenges of Today for a Non-for-Profit Institution, Cultural Organization. . .
Ironically in March, pre-Covid, Aileen Fuchs says that Snug Harbor was on track do have its BEST financial year on record, on the heels of a very successful lantern festival. And then we got hit – along with the rest of the world – with a pandemic . . .