Three Stars for Pleasant Street,
Thumbs Down for the Academy
By Edward Shanahan
What with watching the televised presidential candidates’ debates, awaiting late-night primary election returns, listening to endless media speculation about the candidates positions and prospects, my all-too brief out-of-town sojourn was almost, but not quite, spoiled
Back on the homefront, I’ve spent a few days slogging through some 30 back issues of the Gazette hoping the local news would get my mind off the presidential campaign, but I did not find much locally to trigger outrage.
Still, the exuberant coverage of the reopening of the Pleasant Street Theater did remind me that it was only a little more than a year ago that the Academy of Music stopped showing movies.
Despite a brief flurry of community anger over the sudden shutdown of the Academy, that sense of betrayal quickly gave way to acceptance, even resignation.
The city government chipped in with enough money to heat the theater building, but the gang of eight, or however many make up the Academy board, merely continued in office, doing business as usual by keeping the public at arm’s length.
The Academy, it turns out, is a completely closed institution and that is apparently the way its directors, and by extension, City Hall like it.
And so a hostile public, more or less, concluded that its help was not wanted, in as much as the board could not be trusted to deal openly with its problems. In essence, distrust of the Academy’s shadow government, turned into indifference.
Thus, there was no rush by members of the community to step forward and mount a fund-raising drive to lift the fortunes of the historic Academy
by finding new resources and putting new blood in charge.
A very strange, even weird, arrangement was struck with Springfield public television station WGBY, that none of us really understood, which was sold as financial help, but has yet to yield any visible results for buoying up the Academy. (or at least none that have been publicly announced). Nor has the Academy itself given any evidence its own feeble fund-raising efforts have produced results.
How different that community response has been from what we have all seen transpire to bring about the resurrection of the Pleasant Street Theater, which after all was a private enterprise with no municipal connection.
Yet, a community-wide blitz was launched to accomplish several things – raise more than $100,.000 in a hurry, find a non-profit operator – the Amherst Cinema – and get rivals, Bob Lawton, former theater owner, and Joe Blumenthal, new owner of the building, to come to terms, so the movie house could open up less than a month after it was declared dead.
Quite amazing, really, when you consider the dreary prospects that continue to hang over the Academy and the equally gloomy crowd that continues to call the shots for what is surely the most important and valuable cultural institution in the city of Northampton.
Why is that? Why the starkly different outcome for two theaters facing financial crisis? You figure it out.
Yet, for some of us who have made a financial contribution to help underwrite the rebirth of the Pleasant Street Theater there are still questions that perhaps have not been asked or confronted.
What is the governance of the theater? How public will the board of directors’ activities be? Will there be open board meetings? Will there be Northampton community members named to the board? Will financial reports be issued to the public for inspection?
In other words, will there be open, accessible, responsive governance or will it be closed, secretive, and antagonistic to the public like the board that mismanaged and still runs the Academy of Music?
Good governance is critical, and I’m not sure that in the rush to raise the money for the Pleasant Street Theater we have yet heard all of the important details about by whom and how the theater will be run. That information remains to be made public.