We learned of Ben Wigfall’s passing as we were ready to announce the launch of the MAD Ben Wigfall Project.
Warmly remembered by Kingston’s African-American and arts communities, Wigfall was a professor of printmaking at SUNY New Paltz – the school’s first African-American professor – and a nationally regarded printmaker. He purchased a former Ponckhockie livery stable known locally as the “barn” in 1973 to transform it into a printmaking studio but expanded the concept to create a center for arts that he called Communications Village. His intention – “to reach those people, especially [my] Black neighbors, whose experiences have never afforded them the chance to feel relevant, to feel vitally alive” – took shape in a series of workshops and exhibits.
“Ben’s Communications Village in the 1970s and 80s has lived on as an inspiration and historical precedent for the work we are doing today to make the Arts District and the arts in general here in Kingston benefit the people who live here,” says MAD Co-founder Richard Frumess.
Wigfall invited local and nationally renowned artists to teach and collaborate with members of the local community and offered printmaking, photography and poetry readings. Many important contemporary African American art luminaries, including Benny Andrews, Romare Beardon, Bob Blackburn, Jayne Cortez, Ernest Crichlow, Mel Edwards, Ernest Frazier, Charles Gaines, Mavis Pusey and Betty Blayton Taylor participated at Communications Village, along with Wigfall’s SUNY colleagues and students. Recognized for its important role in the community, Communications Village received support from the New York State Council on the Arts, IBM and the America the Beautiful Fund.
MAD’s new Ben Wigfall Project will serve Midtown youth and families by drawing on community arts expertise and talent. The MAD Midtown Neighborhood Work Group, led by Liz Baker and Tomarra Williams, is developing a series of spring and summer arts workshops for local youth and families. Building upon Professor Wigfall’s inspiration, the sessions will be taught by local artists at Midtown locations such as the Pop Up Gallery Group and the Kingston Library’s Teen Art Lab.
Want to participate in the Ben Wigfall Project? Please sign up for our eNews or join the MAD Midtown Neighborhood Work Group!