Northampton’s Arts Scene
It’s About the Bigger Picture
The following remarks were delivered by Penny Burke, director of the Northampton Center for the Arts, at a community meeting about the Academy of Music on Feb. 17, 2007.
First of all, I would like to clarify who we are not. We are NOT the Northampton Arts Council. The Arts Council is a city department based in Memorial Hall and ably directed by Bob Cilman. The Council’s purpose is to raise and distribute funds through twice-yearly grants to community artists. Some of these funds come from the Mass Cultural Council and some of them come from the proceeds of events like the Four Sundays in February and Transperformance.
The Northampton Center for the Arts is not a city department but we have an important relationship to the city. We are based across the street on the third floor of what used to be the Sullivan School.
We came into being when the city sold public school buildings to a private developer in 1983 and then retained the use of the auditorium and adjacent rooms to serve community arts.
We are a nonprofit corporation whose basic mission is to ensure that both performing and visual arts are accessible to the public. We support local artists by providing affordable performance, rehearsal, classroom, and exhibition space.
In order to do this, we create programming. We rent our space to community groups, particularly nonprofit organizations. And we fundraise! Like crazy. Our most important and visible fundraising event is First Night Northampton which secures about 30 percent of our operating expenses.
We have had our ups and downs over the years, but at present, we are a culturally vibrant and financially stable organization. Nevertheless, we have a problem. The purchase and sale agreement that the city signed in 1983 has a 30-year time limit, and that time is running out.
On November 14, 2006, well before the Academy’s current issues surfaced, the Center’s board of directors reached out to other arts organizations and initiated a lively and ongoing conversation about the opportunities --indeed the imperatives-- for collaboration. These groups included the Academy itself, Commonwealth Opera, New Century Theatre, and the APE gallery at Thorne’s.
Representatives from these groups continue to talk about the challenges of space, audience-building, funding and artistic programming. They met as recently as last week to create a survey designed to gather information from additional arts organizations in an attempt to identify how we can share resources and find viable solutions to common problems.
Northampton has a much-touted reputation as an arts town, but many of its most visible and important arts organizations wrestle constantly with space and fundraising issues. The Center itself has only six years remaining on its non-renewable lease. The clock is ticking, and collaboration is crucial if we are to maintain the vibrancy of the Northampton arts scene.
I urge everyone here to keep the big picture in mind as we go forward with our meeting today. We need to think ahead not just about the future of the Academy but about strategies to support and strengthen the entire arts community in the city. Thank you. (posted 2/28/07)
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