Micah Blumenthal, Artist, Community Activist, Greenhouse Director, Good Work Institute

Micah Blumenthal, Artist, Community Activist, Greenhouse Director, Good Work Institute


ABOUT THE PROJECT: Wild Place is the English translation of Wiltwyck, the original name given to Kingston, New York, in 1661 by the Dutch who were facing fierce resistance from local Native Americans. My wife Tereza and I recently moved back to Kingston after a decade away and can see and sense a lot of changes, with more to come. It seems like an important moment. As a documentary photographer and artist I am very interested in understanding our community and finding connections that remind us of our shared humanity in the midst of transition.  By shooting a series of portraits and video interviews of folks from all walks of Kingston life, I’m doing just that. There are more artists per capita here than any city in America, according to BusinessWeek, and a large number of young people, families and retirees arriving every week from New York City, Austin, Seattle and even San Francisco. There are a host of new world-class restaurants, small tech startups and new factory to loft conversions. This growth means that the challenge of gentrification is rising along with income disparity. Concerns about these changes are apparent in some interviews, which you can watch below.  When I look back on the places we’ve lived over the years it was always the relationships that made a place our home - this project is starting to make us feel at home. Thanks to everyone who has participated and to those who participate in the future. 

A special thanks to artist Deborah Mills Thackrey for producing the project.


Guy Kempe

We really need to be prepared to embrace change in the community and manage it in ways to ensure that it’s successful for everyone. And ensure that we don’t displace the folks that are already here.

What is your name? My name is Guy Kempe. I'm Vice-President of Community Development at RUPCO. (A non-profit advocate for affordable housing)

How long have you been working in Kingston? I've been working for RUPCO here in Kingston for the past 13 years, and I really love this city. It's got great people, great history, an amazing collection of buildings, and a wonderful infrastructure. Really terrific place.

What gives you joy in Kingston? I'm just a real history buff. I really love the history here. What really brings me joy here in Kingston is the history and being able to tell those stories, capture them, share them and preserve them for future generations. That's what really gets me jazzed about the work I get to do here.

What, if anything, would you change about Kingston? What I would really love to see change about Kingston, would be the reflexive kind of reaction we see to change. I sometimes joke about the community: they want big change and less of it. And it seems to me it's really important that in this location, proximate as we are to New York City, with the capacity that people have not only to commute, but also to telecommute to a major financial center for their career and livelihood, we really need to be prepared to embrace change in the community and manage it. Manage it in ways to ensure that it's successful for everyone. And ensure that we don't displace the folks that are already here. And that's a tremendously important value to recognize and appreciate your neighbors. Maybe they're people you don't see every day and they don't go to the same parties you go to, or the church you go to, or don't travel the same circle you do, but they are also an important part of the fabric here and we need to remember that. 

What is your secret hope for the future? Sometimes my ambition on a Friday, at the end of the week, is that I might have clean laundry for next week. But a longer view, I think my goal is one day to be able to spend all the hours of the day on a beach someplace and enjoying the waves and enjoying the sun, and that's my fantasy of retirement. And now that I feel exceedingly old, 62 years old, approaching 63 in May… and thinking... nobody's more shocked that I lived past the age of 30 than me. But I'm really excited to think about having that time in my life to maybe work on a volunteer basis and to not be so concerned about earning a living. But just being able to enjoy what I've done and continue to make a contribution to the world that's going to be valued.

Micah Blumenthal

As far as I know we’re one person away from a critical mass point where everything shifts. So I’ll work everyday like we’re one person away– because we might be.

What is your name? My name is Micah Blumenthal and I'm the Greenhouse director for Good Work Institute here in Kingston.

How long have you been in Kingston? I've been in Kingston now for nine years, just about. I've come into the area for some time before that. Lived in the Hudson Valley in '97, but I've been back here nine years now.

What, if anything, would you change about Kingston? I guess if there's anything I would change about Kingston, it wouldn't really be anything. Essentially, we're all just wrapped up in process. This is the process. There's nothing to change. We're all here doing what we do. This is an active role that I play in this. And I suppose what I'm working for is a place that's more equitable, a community that knows each other. But that's not a button that I would press that I could just change it. Because the process of getting there is actually the work. And that's the beautiful part. So there's nothing to change.

What is your secret hope for your future?  I can begin to think of a future Kingston where we have found the way to do it differently. We've found a way to get outside the box. We've found a way to get outside ourselves. We've found a way to no longer just easily and lazily label and identify everyone, but in fact, recognize each other as humans. Which is nothing short of revolutionary. And that we could move with that. And that our exchanges come from that place.  And I think change comes from critical mass. So as far as I know, we're one person away from a critical mass point where everything shifts. So I'll work every day like we’re one person away–because we might be.

Nancy Donskoj

When I first moved to the Rondout (Kingston), basically it was an empty, empty place. All along Broadway was nothing but empty storefronts.

Who are you? My name is Nancy Donskoj and I am a photographer. And also a former gallery owner. I just closed my gallery. And I'm an innkeeper as well.

How long have you been in Kingston? I've been in Kingston since 1987. When I moved to the Rondout, basically it was an empty, empty place. All along Broadway was nothing but empty storefronts. So that was quite a different era than now, for sure.

What gives you joy in Kingston?  I think for sure the community. I think everybody that lives here, either they're from Kingston or they moved here because there's this wonderful sense of community and sense of place. Being close to New York City, being on the Hudson River. It's the best of both worlds really. There's a lot of creative energy here, and it just keeps you engaged. That's what I love about it.

What, if anything, would you change about Kingston? Hmm. Actually, you know, there is one thing I would change. I would never have knocked down all the buildings. Half of the Rondout on Lower Broadway, across the street from my studio, was totally demolished and knocked down. And it really took the heart out of the city, I believe. There's a resurgence now with people moving in. And people love the housing stock, but we really missed a lot of the wonderful architecture and you just can't replace that. So now we have an empty field and some condos.

What is your secret hope for your future? My secret hope for the future here in Kingston is to stay here. And to grow old and watch the changes, and enjoy this sense of place.

See Nancy’s work here: https://www.nancydonskojphotography.com


Robert Gaston

Kingston is changing on its own beautifully. I love the diversity. I love the art. I love the food.

Who are you? My name is Robert Gaston and I work for the Catskill Mountain Railroad and I am the director, producer and events manager.

How long have you been in Kingston? I’ve been in Kingston about a year. I’ve been in the area coming up on three years.  

What gives you joy in Kingston? I get joy from our community here in Kingston. Our customers on the train. Being able to make a slight difference in the world around me.

What, if anything, would you change about Kingston? Kingston is changing on its own beautifully. I love the diversity. I love the art. I love the food. I just want it to continue to grow and the community to continue to develop as it is. 

What is your secret hope for your future? World Peace. A new president? I would like this train to get all the way down to the reservoir and beyond. I would like to have the Rail Trail and the train working together. I'd like to have a really successful year ahead and that we all work together as a community and continue to grow and thrive.

Find out more and book a trip on the Catskill Mountain Railroad

Maryline Damour

When I moved up here, I found such a huge entrepreneurial spirit and population of people who were just creating things–I just felt really right at home.

Who are you? My name is Marline Damour and I'm an interior designer. And it's my second career, so I've been an interior designer for about four years now.

How long have you been in Kingston? I've been in Kingston for four years. When I decided to move up from New York City was when I decided to make the big shift, leaving my old profession in Marketing and PR to Interior Design. So I moved up here to be an interior designer.

What about Kingston gives you joy? When I moved up here, I found such a huge entrepreneurial spirit. And I found such a huge population of people who were involved in just creating things. Whether they were makers, or people developing programs for the community to connect people, I just felt really right at home.

What, if anything, would you change about Kingston? I think one of the things that I try to do with my Kingston Design Connection Program is recognizing that there are so many designers and makers moving up here. I really try to create a mechanism for them to connect with each other. And I think that the more that we do that as a city, the more that we embrace the designers that are moving up here and create a pathway for them to connect with other creatives, I think the better off we will all be.

What is your secret secret hope for your future? Gosh, it's boundless, really. I tend to be one of those people. You know the Design House was meant to be a week long art project which turned into a month long thing, which now is an actual program with lots of different moving pieces. I just really like to explore new things. And if I'm interested in it, I will just move full steam ahead and just do it. So who knows what the future will bring? (Video interview below)

Follow Maryline on Instagram @kingston.design.connection and learn more about the Kingston Design Showhouse and her interior design firm Damour Drake here: https://linktr.ee/kingston.design.connection

Deborah Mills Thackrey

I moved from Silicon Valley to Kingston about 6 and a half years ago, and it’s the best thing I ever did.

Who are you? I'm Deborah Mills Thackery. I'm a photographic artist, and I'm currently exploring printing my mostly abstract images on fabric and then doing all kinds of things with that.

How long have you been in Kingston? I moved from Silicon Valley to Kingston about 6 and a half years ago, and it's the best thing I ever did.

What gives you joy about Kingston? I love the atmosphere, the old houses, the history, the Hudson River is amazing, being close to the mountains, nature, but mostly the arts community here has just been amazing for me. I feel like I'm in my element.

What, if anything, would you change about Kingston?  I don't know. Thinking about what I would change about Kingston is ... I'd have to put some thought into it. I do feel there are so many pluses, but maybe there are a little bit of distance between the different communities. And I think people are working on bringing people together and that's a part of the area that I really enjoy, but, you know, I don't like it when I feel like people are isolated into different camps.

What is your secret hope for the future? Gee, my secret hope for my future. I just want to continue to try to create beauty in the world, and find ways to experiment and explore, and find things that feed my soul, which I feel like I've been lucky to have a little bit a taste of that recently. (Video interview below)

Visit Deborah’s site: Deborah Mills Thackrey

Chris Turgeon

My deep, heartfelt desire is to get to the point where I can start being part of the rare few that are innovating and adding something to the story of food somewhere, somehow.

Who are you? My name is Chris Turgeon, and I'm the Executive Chef here at Wilde Beest.

How long have you been in Kingston? I've been in Kingston specifically for about eight months now. I am a habitual nomad. I really am from nowhere. I'm 35 years old and I've had 38 addresses, but I'm here by way of Chicago and Austin, Texas.

What gives you joy about Kingston? I like what's happening in Kingston right now. I like the intersection of culture. There's a lot of ex-patriots from the city and that's kind of running over a backbone of local folks. The way people seem to appreciate art in general here. There's kind of an unusual gathering of culture. Reminds me a lot of the way Austin felt when I first moved there in 2010. Kingston's got that same feeling. There's still opportunity here. You know, it's affordable for me, which is a big deal. And it's a cool place to be. And the longer I've been here, you know, it really is truly a small town. Folks know each other, and there's some surprising opportunities inherent to that, to how personal it can be. I think for me personally it's that I'll shine a little more than I might somewhere else. A little easier to stand out, a little harder to get lost in the mix. So, yeah, that's what I like about Kingston.

What, if anything, would you change about Kingston? I think there's an unfortunate number of open spaces in some areas. We're in the stockade district and there's some notably large holes in the street here. And I think there's some community anchor type businesses that could be a real asset to the community, and to anchoring, you know in particular Wall Street as a hub of the community. You know, I know a lot of that's been soaked up by outside investment. I'd love it if they became viable businesses and beautiful store front across the street that would be perfect for a local market of some kind.  But Kingston's pretty cool, man. The parking situation could improve a little bit. How about that?

What is your secret hope for the future? When you start off your career as a cook, everything about what you do is dictation. You're being told exactly what now. And you cross a certain threshold with that understanding, and you start to get some points on the horizon to navigate by and you start to be able to learn by imitation. So you start imitating the people around you and ahead of you. And then if you're successful with that, then you start to understand enough of the puzzle to start to be able to build your own puzzles. So you start creation. And I think the vast majority of chefs in the world, end their careers there. My deep, heartfelt desire is to get to the point where I can start being part of the rare few that are innovating and adding something to the story of food somewhere, somehow. I'm in that process right now of actually saying my piece. And I think after a couple of years of listening to myself here, I'll hopefully have something to say that's relevant. So that's what I'm hoping. (Video interview below)

Visit Wilde Beest

Nicki Tha Great

I’m trying to be a pop star. And when I accomplish that, because I will, I’m planning on coming back to Kingston and going back to the high school and really helping that.

Who are you? My name is Dominique. You might know me as Nicki Tha Great. I'm a musician. And that's it.

How long have you been in Kingston? I lived in Kingston five years and I just graduated high school last June. 

What gives you joy about Kingston? I think the people, mostly. Not all of them are great, but there are some that I think are truly something special. And I'm hoping they soon realize that.

What, if anything, would you change about Kingston? Well, considering I spent most of my time in high school. I'd probably change something there. And one thing I would change is the social dynamic. There's like this weird hierarchy. Like who's most important and who's not. And I think it really takes away from the experience for a lot of kids and it sucks. If you're a prep, you're important. Like, to the school. Do you know what I'm saying? So if you do sports, you know, you're important. You can get away with certain things that other kids can't. If you're popular amongst the students, you get treated better. You can bully somebody and everybody's going to laugh because you're cool. And no one's going to say anything about you bullying somebody, which is terrible. Do you think artists are outsiders? Yeah. Oh my god, yeah. Especially in high school. Yeah, the arts kids, they're so cool, but arts kids are usually kind of weird and stuff, so no one pays them any mind. But if you take the time to talk to them, you see that they're the most interesting people. And the most popular kids are probably the most boring. No offense.

What is your secret hope for the future? Obviously I'm trying to be a pop star. And when I accomplish that, because I will, I'm planning on coming back to Kingston and going back to the high school and really helping that. And obviously I want to make a new branch for music kids and arts kids so ... you know what I'm saying? Because they're important. So yeah, that's what I want to change. (Video interview below)

Follow @NickiThaGreat on Instagra



Check back every week or so as we upload new interviews.

All photos and text ©Doug Menuez/Represented by Heather Elder: 314.931.7709 heather@heatherelder.com