By  on May 7, 2007

For a sleepy Hudson Valley town, Beacon, N.Y., gets more than its fair share of tourists with sophisticated clothes and designer eyewear.

Most have trekked from New York City, 60 miles to the south, to wander Dia:Beacon, the permanent collection of the Dia Center for the Arts. In spite of the stylish tourists, Beacon, home to only 16,000 residents, has retained its casual flavor.

"It's really fun to watch the change in the area," said Clara Lou Gould, the mayor of Beacon. "You go out on a Saturday and you see all the visitors to Dia, but you also still see all the locals. It's not like Disney World. The Dia has been a great neighbor."

Dia:Beacon has put the former industrial town on the map. The town was undergoing a small renaissance in the late Nineties, as private developers slowly restored old homes and commercial space, when the directors of Dia, a renowned contemporary art museum in Manhattan, chose the former International Paper Co. manufacturing facility on the Hudson River as the ideal space for its permanent collection. After a $15 million renovation, the museum opened in 2003. It's now home to Richard Serra's massive, dizzying installations and Andy Warhol's shadow painting collection, among other works by major modern artists.

Artists who were already drawn to the Hudson Valley for its inspiring natural views, bohemian attitude and cheap real estate are flocking to the region in increasing numbers. The Bau Gallery, which represents the Beacon Artist Union, made its debut on Beacon's Main Street in January 2005 and hosts a new show every month.

"There was a real excitement in the arts community in Beacon when the Dia opened," said Harold Plochberger, an installation artist and a member of Bau. "The local community is very much involved in the arts."

Along the Hudson, other communities are starting to ramp up their focus on the arts. The "4 Cities, 4 Saturdays" festival, organized by Art Along the Hudson, includes Beacon and the nearby towns of Kingston, Poughkeepsie and Newburgh, which all host arts festivals on alternating weekends of the month.

Drawing in artists has helped draw in business. "The Dia attracted a lot of art galleries and the art galleries created a demand for restaurants, then boutiques, and the residential development has taken off," said Gould.

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