Livia Straus has held a lifelong reverence for the power of art to transform a community, and that’s exactly what she did in the city of Peekskill. Celebrating its 15th anniversary next year, her brainchild, Hudson Valley MOCA (formerly the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art), has been a critical driving force of the city’s urban renaissance.
Straus started developing the concept for MOCA in 2001; in 2003, at age 60, she bought an abandoned home-goods store and, with her husband, Marc, opened it as an arts-and-education center the following year. The former Fordham University professor gave up her academic career to run Hudson Valley MOCA and has never accepted any compensation for her work there.
“It’s not about one person’s ego or desires. We’ve embraced the need for partnership and collaboration.”
To date, MOCA has exhibited more than 5,000 artists, highlighting emerging local talent alongside well-known creators, and reaches almost 50,000 people per year, 15,000 of whom are on-site visitors. The project has put Peekskill on the map in the international art world, and the resulting influx in tourism has greatly boosted the city’s commercial development.
“Peekskill has come a long way. The collaboration of artists, government, and business is inspiring and energizing,” says Straus, who will still function as Hudson Valley MOCA’s board president but says one of her goals is “to ensure that the project will continue to grow and succeed when I’m ready to move on completely.” MOCA recently hired a new executive director, Effie Phillips-Staley to continue the organization’s growth.
With the enthusiastic support of local government, recent projects, like the waterfront trail redevelopment and the new Charles Point Marina, have smoothly linked art and commerce with Peekskill’s public spaces. Straus says this is the result of a “wonderful symbiosis” between Peekskill’s art and business communities. “It’s not about one person’s ego or desires,” she says. “We’ve embraced the need for partnership and collaboration.”