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Cheerleading for the arts

Last night, at the Palace Theatre in Albany, the Albany Symphony Orchestra opened its 30th season with David Alan Miller as the music director and conductor. In a recent interview, rather than talk of his accomplishments with the ASO –of which there are many – he preferred to voice pride in the symphony’s contributions to what he called “the area’s impressive cultural eco-system.”

His comments made me think of how rich our area is as a place to enjoy cultural opportunities.

The more I thought, the more it turned me into a cheerleader. Over the past 18 months we all realized how many of our specific entertainments have been denied us.

Thinking of the area as a whole, I wondered how many cultural and entertainment opportunities we deny ourselves – or just take for granted.

If we define our area as being a 60-mile radius from the state capital, population-wise it’s just over a million people. Being generous, it might be described as a mid-sized market.

Yet we have a symphony orchestra with a national reputation, a professional regional theater, two restored 1920-era movie houses like Proctors that hosts the best of Broadway touring shows and major pop acts, and the Palace Theatre that offers major touring rock stars.

And for the biggest entertainment stars we have a large 16,000 seat arena, still known as the Times Union Center. Opera Saratoga has a year round presence in the area.

A symphony orchestra, touring Broadway shows, a professional resident theater, an opera company, and world class museums - that’s the kind of abundance you only expect to find in major cities.

But there’s more. A lot more. Along with these major houses we have historical gems of venues that present various entertainments.

The Troy Music Hall, an alternative home of the ASO, is one of the finest acoustical halls in the world and attracts a wide variety of classical and popular performing artists. The Cohoes Music Hall was built in 1874 and offers musical theater by Playhouse Stage Company, dramas by Creative License and a regular supply of unique musicians.

If you want folk, Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs is the oldest continuously operated coffee house in the United States. Should you prefer modern, EMPAC on the RPI campus is as high-tech as is imaginable and holds several performing spaces.

We not only have music available, the Clark Museum in Williamstown has an art collection that would be impressive even if located in New York City and the contemporary art museum Mass MoCA in North Adams is a destination site for at least the entire Northeast. The Albany Institute of History and Arts is a fine boutique museum and has the best collection of painters from the Hudson River School anywhere.

Other museums range from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the Automobile Museum in Saratoga and the Bottle Museum in Ballston Spa and everything in between – including the outstanding New York State Museum in Albany.

There’s not enough time to speak about all the summer attractions like SPAC, Opera Saratoga, Glimmerglass Opera, Tanglewood, Jacobs Pillow and several professional theater companies that perform locally and in the Berkshires.

I think a lot of the consistent quality offered has to do with the arts leadership at almost all of these institutions. Miller has 30 years with the ASO. Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill has been artistic-producing director at Capital Rep since 1995 – more than 25 years. Philip Morris has been CEO of Proctors for 20 years.

Longevity isn’t everything. Elizabeth Sobel has just finished her fourth year of being president and CEO of SPAC. She has done an awesome job in a short and trying time.

I believe the key to the leadership of area arts organizations is knowing and respecting the audience’s tastes and an eagerness to collaborate with each other. They deliver what the audience is comfortable with, without ever staying stagnant. They challenge their audiences and we are all better for it.

As summer turns to fall and arts and entertainment move inside, it is rewarding and comfortable to know that management is not only concerned about what we see, but are also dedicated to everyone having the safest possible experience.

Because of the mature arts leadership in the area, I have confidence that we will not only have great fall and winter entertainment – but also a safe environment in which to enjoy it.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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