The first thing that Carole Wolf, founding executive director, says about Mill Street Loft is, “We change lives through the arts.” If there was a stronger statement in the English language, it would be used here. The Mill Street Loft does such an incredible amount for the local arts community it’s staggering, especially considering the fact that they’re a nonprofit organization.
Back in 1981, Wolf started the Mill Street Loft as a grassroots organization in the City of Poughkeepsie, on the fourth floor of an old factory building, when she and several artists used the space as a studio. It was a different community—a different world—back then. There wasn’t much technology for the arts and computer graphic design hadn’t been developed yet. To help pay for studio costs, the artists decided to start a summer camp for children. That tiny little program that had 19 members at first has since grown in the four campus-wide Dutchess Arts Camp. “It’s all about fostering self expression,” Wolf says. Teaching multiple arts with a visual arts focus, kids work in studios with professional artists to learn different mediums, dance, music, and drama.
At Mill Street Loft, the arts are used to address issues related to gender, poverty, aging, education and soft skills for work and life. “Social justice is what we use the arts for,” Wolf explains. “Remember, art is the universal language.” While programs are open to the public, they’re specifically geared toward low-income families and at-risk youth. By trying to offer what many schools can’t, preparatory classes get future college students ready for intense art courses. Thanks to this, many students start as freshman in undergraduate school already ahead of the curve.
Intergenerational programs help the wisdom of age to meet the spirit of youth while bridging the gap between the two. Project Able, the summertime employment training program, teaches high school students to break barriers, prepares them to find a job and helps them to eventually become what they dream of. While they learn, they earn a minimum wage. Youth outreach programs, like Girls Empowerment, are entirely dependent on grants, donations, and fundraising. The Art Institute brings 40 colleges together with representatives who view and assess portfolios. This specific program has helped students to earn more than $27 million in merit-based scholarships through the years.
“I see a whole new generation coming up,” Wolf says. She innately understands something that most people fail to notice: the Hudson Valley is ripe with talent. “I never knew the Mill Street Loft was going to grow into what it is today.” The organization is still growing, too, as they continue to work with whole communities. “We’re trying to fill community needs that aren’t being filled instead of duplicating what’s already being done.” Relying on the old adage to make new friends but keep the old, Wolf’s team continues to foster relationships with current associates while staying on top of trends and always being open to progress.