Championing the Arts, Fostering Local Pride 

Chet and Karen Opalka pose with actor Stephen Lang and NYSWI Director Paul Grondahl in February at Magic Wig Studios in Colonie, after a voiceover recording session for the Albany Film Festival’s projection mapping project that the Opalkas helped underwrite. (Photo by Justin Maine) 

ALBANY, N.Y. (Sept. 17, 2020) — For philanthropists Chet and Karen Opalka, New York's Capital Region is ascendant. For decades, the Opalkas have championed the underappreciated upstate area as a world-class cultural destination and used their philanthropy to support an array of local arts and cultural organizations.

With a gift of more than $100,000 to the New York State Writers Institute (NYSWI) at the University at Albany, the Opalkas are once again demonstrating their commitment to the growth of the arts in Albany.


The Opalkas greet director Francis Ford Coppola last October at Cafe Capriccio in Albany after a premiere at of Coppola’s "Cotton Club Encore," presented by the Writers Institute at The Egg in Albany. The premiere was a fundraiser for the Institute’s inaugural Albany Film Festival. (Photo by Paul Grondahl) 

The Opalkas’ gift to NYSWI’s endowment provides a permanent source of funding for the Writers Institute’s acclaimed programming, including its Visiting Writers Series. Each year NYSWI offers more than 50 events, free and open to the public, featuring Nobel Prize laureates and other literary luminaries from around the world. Past visitors to Albany have included Toni Morrison, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, John Updike and Gloria Steinem. More recent events have featured a new generation of literary stars such as Colson Whitehead, Junot Diaz and Edwidge Danticat.

“Karen and I are really excited about the momentum that has been building at the Writers Institute the past few years and we wanted to support it in a major way,” Chet Opalka said. “We believe in collaboration as the best way forward. The Writers Institute collaborates across the UAlbany community and with numerous arts and cultural organizations around the Capital Region in its programming. We applaud that.”

"I have known Chet and Karen for many years. They're well-informed and deeply engaged in the issues that are important today," said Paul Grondahl, director of NYSWI, who also noted their involvement with NYSWI’s Albany Book Festival and Telling the Truth in a Post Truth World symposium. "We're grateful for their thoughtful generosity, which will sustain the Writers Institute and ensure we continue to bring to Albany the world's best writers and foster diversity and inclusion. We believe all voices should and need to be heard."

The Opalkas’ prior support of NYSWI includes a $75,000 gift to underwrite an immersive, large-scale public art display on UAlbany's Uptown campus to kick off the inaugural Albany Film Festival. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused the festival, originally scheduled for March 2020, to be postponed to spring 2021.


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