Home Arts & Leisure Caramoor composes plan for its future

Caramoor composes plan for its future

The grounds are humming as Jeffrey Haydon walks through the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts on a Thursday morning in May.

Caramoor’s CEO greeted a group of school children touring the early 20th-century Rosen House, chatted briefly with a music instructor and joked with a crew setting up tents for a private weekend fundraiser at the 1,500-person capacity Venetian Theater.

“Caramoor is a little unique in that it’s a collection of several different nonprofit businesses,” Haydon said. “We have music, performing arts, but we’re also a 90-acre historical site, a (45,000-square-foot) historic house, historic gardens and an education program.”

Haydon has led the center for six years, a job he described as part fundraiser, part planner and part “professional audience member.” So thinking often about what Caramoor is, and what it means to the region, is part of Haydon’s job.

It’s likely on his mind now more than ever, as Caramoor prepares to launch the public phase of its “Inspire” capital campaign that the nonprofit hopes will help secure its financial future ahead of its 75th anniversary in 2020.

Caramoor will look to the public for the final $8 million of a $40 million fundraising goal to boost its endowment and modernize parts of its grounds. Haydon described the goal as “raising the quality of the grounds so that they are equally as inspiring as the music.”

Rosen’s gift

Caramoor was founded in 1945, when Walter and Lucie Bigelow Rosen bequeathed their Katonah estate for the creation of a center for music and art. Walter was a Harvard-educated German immigrant who became a New York City financier. Lucie was from one of the city’s most prominent families. One of her grandfathers was a co-founder of the New York Public Library.

Walter and Lucie married in 1914 and bought the northern Westchester estate in 1928. They had each traveled extensively and loved the property’s Italianate gardens and tall cedars designed to mimic Tuscan cypress trees. They built the Mediterranean style villa that is now preserved as the historical Rosen House, and filled it with an eclectic mix of antiques and art imported from their worldly travels.

Following the death of their son in World War II, the Rosens decided to bequeath the property for the arts and music center. They hosted the first public concert in their home in 1946.

The grounds expanded over time. In 1958, the property’s covered, outdoor Venetian Theater opened and the Rosen’s villa opened to the public as a historic home in 1971. The house still hosts the original Music Room performance space.

The annual summer music festival the Rosens founded 73 years ago will this year feature 530 artists and 50 performances spanning a range of genres, including classical, opera, jazz and folk over seven weeks from mid-June to late July.

Across five different venues on the site, the property hosts about 80 performances a year that draw more than 45,000 people.

Setting up for the future

Haydon was recruited to run Caramoor after a decade-long tenure directing the Ojai Music Festival in his native California. A tour of Caramoor’s bucolic setting, just a little more than an hour from New York City, helped bring him east.

But he said he also believed in the vision of the board of directors.

“Everyone wanted to make sure Caramoor was well positioned financially, programmatically and physically for future generations,” Haydon said. “It was exciting to become part of a project to really set an organization up for the future.”

He said Caramoor had a great legacy, but was “woefully undercapitalized.” Haydon arrived with the endowment around $7 million, which is about equal to its annual operating budget.

A healthy performing arts organization, he said, should have an endowment about four-times its annual budget.

All those different facets of Caramoor that Haydon listed — the musical performances, the educational programs and the historical acreage — “none of these are profit centers for the organization. So it’s imperative that Caramoor has another source of ongoing funds to support its operations outside of ticket sales and earned revenue.”

About a year into Haydon’s tenure, he and Board Chair James A. Attwood Jr. launched the private portion of Caramoor’s Inspire fundraising campaign. The goal was to raise money first through donations from board members and other longtime supporters, then through a public fundraising push.

That first part is now complete, with board donations and traditional donors helping to raise $32 million. The campaign now moves on to the public and Caramoor audience members for the remaining $8 million.

While the main goal of the campaign is to secure Caramoor’s long-term financials, the organization will also use part of the funding to improve its grounds.

Parking and roadway improvements, upgrades to music facilities, nighttime lighting and a new box office are all in the plans.

Caramoor also wants to build a plaza area in the central part of its campus as a hub for all the different performance spaces.

A large lawn on the property once used for parking, known as Friends Field, will receive a new permanent stage for Caramoor’s annual Jazz and American Roots festivals. Both festivals have used temporary stages in recent years.

While the permanent stage space won’t allow for capacity beyond what’s already available at the Venetian Theater, it will allow for a wider variety of concert experiences.

“Audience interests are evolving and not everybody wants to sit in a seat in a formal concert setting,” Haydon said. “Friends Field gives us the opportunity to present music and give people a chance to come and spread blankets out and eat.”


Haydon refers often to the experience of attending a concert at Caramoor. “Artists will tell us they feel something different when they perform here,” he said.

The variety of the artists who play to that experience has expanded through the years. In the last decade, Caramoor has added the American Roots Music Festival, which this summer has Aimee Mann as a headliner, and its Jazz Festival, a collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center entering its fourth year.

“This has been Caramoor’s own renaissance,” Haydon said. “We’re starting to see, programmatically, as we embrace American roots and jazz, as well as our classical programming legacy, we’re seeing ticket sales go up in all of those categories.”

By expanding the variety of shows, he said, the Caramoor concert experience is opened to a wider range of audiences.

“People may be attracted to come for a certain program or artist, but they fall in love with Caramoor and those that are inspired by their experience start to become more like music omnivores,” Haydon said. “So it’s less dependent on knowing a star is performing than it is on trusting and being inspired by something that’s new and different.”

But even as it builds upon its programming and grounds, Haydon said he and the board remain stewards of the Rosens’ vision. Lucie once described Caramoor as standing for the “small delights in life, along with the big ones.”

To Haydon, “Caramoor is built by a family, welcoming friends and family to come and be inspired by their place. I don’t ever want to have Caramoor lose that sense of home.”


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