This is the story of how a community based arts organization was born and grew up to be a vibrant center for showcasing the talents of professional and amateur artists in theater, dance, music, visual and fine arts while preserving and maintaining two landmarked historic buildings in the City of Poughkeepsie, NY.

On November 19th, 1981 the Cunneen-Hackett Cultural Center (dba Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center) was founded by several community minded individuals meeting in the Vassar Brothers Institute building at 12 Vassar St. Among them was Charles A. Butts, then President of the Area Fund of Dutchess County which owned the VBI building and the Vassar Home for Aged Men building. It was managed by the Mid-Hudson Civic Center, Inc. until December 31, 1981 when management passed to the Cunneen-Hackett Cultural Center, Inc.

John J. Garland, Jr. as Trustee of the Cunneen Hackett Charitable Trust, provided $200,000 in funds for restoration of both buildings; startup expenses were also paid by the Trust through the Area Fund. In 1972 the buildings, designed by J. A. Wood in Victorian Italianate style, were placed in the National Register of Historic Places. John Guy and Matthew Jr., nephews of Vassar College founder Matthew Vassar, continued their uncle’s philanthropy by building the Home for Aged Men in 1881 and the Vassar Brothers Institute for Art, Sciences and Literature in 1882 which has been called Poughkeepsie’s “hidden gem”. Built on the foundation of Vassar’s old brewery, the architectural beauty of the theater building has been preserved and maintained by the Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center as an important cultural venue.

The Vassar Brothers Home for Aged Men is situated on the former site of Mathew Vassar’s city residence. The magnolia tree from which Matthew cut a flowering stem and laid it on President Abraham Lincoln’s coffin as his funeral train stopped at the Poughkeepsie station in April of 1865, still blooms on the front lawn today. Now the office address of the Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center, it is also home to local nonprofit service organizations like Friends of Seniors, the Dutchess Interfaith Council, and resident theater company, Cocoon Theatre under the direction of Marguerite and Andres San Millan. Several healing arts practitioners and therapists rent offices in the sister building across from the Theater. Both buildings serve as a rental space for civic and social occasions, for gallery exhibitions, and for connecting the past to the present. They continue to be an active community resource providing cultural “buzz” for the Queen City and Hudson Valley tourists and residents alike. Because of its rich history, the Vassar legacy and proximity to the Hudson River, Poughkeepsie goes forward with a strong sense of identity.

Poughkeepsie is going strong, going diverse, going inclusive, going safer and going with the arts. It is a statistical fact that communities with a strong, diverse, inclusive and safe place for artistic expression; prosper and grow. A flourishing cultural scene enhances everyone’s lives with a bonding spirit of pride and accomplishment, of creative energy that spawns curiosity, discovery and enlightenment. So join us here in Poughkeepsie and celebrate the arts with us at the Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center!