Rockefeller arts center offers close, behind the scenes look at art in unique setting

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A greenhouse where John D. Rockefeller grew ornamental orange trees a century ago has sprouted into a contemporary cultural arts hub with deep roots in the community.

The David Rockefeller Creative Arts Center is a reimagining of his grandfather’s orangerie as a gallery, studio and multidisciplinary performance space on the Pocantico Center campus in Mount Pleasant.

The DR Center, as it’s known, pays homage to its past by preserving the original Versailles-inspired wooden doors and pebbledash stucco exterior dating from 1908. A pair of ornamental orange trees stand sentry at an entranceway.

The 30-foot-tall structure is designed to be net-zero and has been retrofitted with sustainability enhancements that earned LEED platinum certification including solar panels and a water-conserving rain garden.

Original monumental arch-top windows have been replaced with custom-made, energy efficient versions. The one-floor building is ADA-compliant and is outfitted with all-gender restrooms.

Upon entering the cavernous lobby, here’s what’s in store for visitors:

  • An 1,800-square-foot gallery for rotating visual art exhibits.

  • A 920-square-foot performance space complete with 200 retractable seats for dance, film and music with an integrated audio and projection system and HD movie-house screen. Pivot doors open to an expansive stone terrace that hosts live events in the warmer months.

  • A fully equipped 900-square-foot art studio offering residencies to national and regional artists, as well as community-based arts groups working with underserved communities.

The DR Center enters its second full year with expanded programs aimed at attracting visitors seeking close-to-home arts and cultural experiences, said Elly Weisenberg Kelly, the center’s manager of programs and residencies.

She called the center “a hub that brings artists and the community together to share in the creative process” in an intimate setting where the public can engage with art up close, something they might not get to do at large venues like Lincoln Center and MOMA.

“Artists love the opportunity to engage with our community and hear feedback and have these exciting conversations,” Weisenberg Kelly added, “and our community loves to get that behind-the-scenes glimpse at how art is created, how art goes from start to finish.”

Support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund allows the DR Center to produce events that are either free or cost no more than $15 to attend, with free tickets set aside for community groups “because we never want price to be a barrier to access for people,” Weisenberg Kelly said.

Bequeathed to history

The Pocantico Center, the 216-acre parcel purchased by John D. Rockefeller in the 1890s, is home to Kykuit, the estate where four generations of the family lived.

Kykuit and the orangerie were bequeathed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1979, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has operated the property, including the DR Center, since 1994. Family members, including David Rockefeller’s son, David Jr., are on the fund’s board.

The sweeping property also includes the Marcel Breuer House, a former guest house used for artists’ residencies and educational programs, and Abeyton Lodge, a meeting and rehearsal space.

David Rockefeller Sr. grew up on the estate, and later resided at Hudson Pines in nearby Pocantico Hills until his death in 2017. The arts center was named for him in recognition of his “long history of philanthropy in the arts and supporting arts organizations and supporting artists who may not typically have access to time and space to create,” Weisenberg Kelly said.

David Rockefeller Jr. said his father would be proud of what the center embodies.

“Honoring the legacy of my father and the family’s interest in supporting the arts, the DR Center seeks to inspire, present and support a new generation of artists and their work,” he stated. “My father would have loved to be here to see this glorious space. He was connected to this town, to this property, and to this building.”

Free spring programs

The DR Center has welcomed some 4,500 visitors since opening in October 2022, and this season’s robust events schedule is likely to raise the facility’s profile.

“We’re very focused on diversifying our audiences and making sure that we are providing the types of arts and culture that people from a wide range of backgrounds, whatever that may be, want to attend,” said Weisenberg Kelly, who hails from Tarrytown.

The upcoming season’s full schedule will be posted on the center’s website in March, but here are some highlights:

This undated photo shows the interior of the David Rockefeller Creative Arts Center when it was an orangery.
This undated photo shows the interior of the David Rockefeller Creative Arts Center when it was an orangery.
  • April 27: Visitors can take a free one-hour tour of Kykuit, the 40-room Beaux-Arts villa with its world-class art collection, gardens and sweeping Hudson River views. Park at the Pocantico Center and take a shuttle to Kykuit.

  • May 18: DR Center Community Day is a free event taking place inside and outside the center. Live performances, open gallery, artists-in-residence, food trucks, and hands-on arts and crafts will be presented in partnership with a host of community groups including the Westchester Children's Museum and Katonah Museum of Art.

  • The spring season also will include a garden walk, and tours of the Japanese garden and the Marcel Breuer House.

  • June 26: The annual Culpeper Summer Performing Arts Series kicks off with tap dancer and choreographer Ayodele Casel.

  • Visit for information.

  • The Pocantico Center is located at 200 Lake Road, Tarrytown.

Robert Brum is a freelance journalist who writes about the Hudson Valley. Contact him and read his work at

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: See art up close at Rockefeller's greenhouse in Mount Pleasant NY