Some Ghent residents are questioning why Art Omi’s sculpture park remains open despite the statewide closure of public gathering spaces, but the town says it will not close the private park.
Art Omi has drawn a number of complaints, said Ghent Town Supervisor Michael Benvenuto, who said he has spoken with Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett about the issue.
The Columbia County Health Department sent employees to the park and determined that social-distancing requirements are being met, Benvenuto said.
The town will not step in to close Art Omi’s grounds, he said.
The Columbia County Department of Health has investigated the high volume of visitors, but sees no reason to believe that social distancing is being ignored at Art Omi’s sculpture park, Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb said.
The grounds of the Art Omi Sculpture & Architecture Park are free and open to the public.
“People see cars in a parking lot and call to complain that social distancing is not being practiced at these venues,” Mabb said in a statement.
In response to state directives ordering the closure of nonessential businesses, Art Omi shuttered its buildings and stopped programming. It posted notices asking visitors to refrain from touching the installations and put signs in its parking lot discouraging people from visiting when the lot is full.
Benvenuto said he is satisfied that Art Omi is doing everything it can to keep people safe during the COVID-19 shutdown. He has asked the organization to monitor its parking lot.
But some local residents are asking why the 120-acre park is remaining open when other public spaces are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Art Omi’s benches and sculptures could be contaminated by visitors, causing the virus to spread in the community, said Lorraine Rizzi, of Ghent, who lives nearby.
“There is nobody monitoring the park or disinfecting the benches,” said Rizzi.
Rizzi, who has a history of respiratory illness, said she is concerned about people traveling up from the city to visit Art Omi and who may not be following proper quarantine protocols.
“People in the community do not understand that this is a horrific virus,” Rizzi said. “This virus is no joke.”
Benvenuto said he believes Art Omi’s grounds are large enough to accommodate the volume of visitors.
“People are supposed to park, disperse, walk around the 120-acre park and leave,” he said. “The buildings are closed. It is the same as state parks.”
New York state park grounds, forests and trails remain open, with the exception of camping and pavilion shelters. But those areas are monitored by state Department of Environmental park police, forest rangers and environmental conservation police officers. Art Omi, a private park, does not provide such monitoring, residents said.
The Olana State Historic Site in Greenport and Thomas Cole State and National Historic Site in Catskill are open.
In a statement, Art Omi said the sculpture park remains open to provide a space for people to exercise amid the shutdown.
“As part of an overall strategy for maintaining mental and physical health during this time, authorities have been explicit about the need for people to take time outdoors on a daily basis,” according to the organization’s website. “Art Omi is fortunate to be able to provide a spacious environment for people to walk, breathe deep, and to see other people from a safe distance.”
Christine Meara-Kaplowitz of Hudson took her son to walk and look at the artwork on the grounds of Art Omi on Monday.
“The place is so huge you are not near anybody,” she said. “There was another mom there with her kids, but we went the opposite direction.”
Meara-Kaplowitz, who identified herself as an essential worker, said she and her son appreciated the space to stretch their legs and enjoy the springtime.