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Mahaiwe Gala Brings In Almost Half A Million Dollars

Tables full of well dressed people sit inside a tent with Mahaiwe banners
Josh Landes
The scene behind Great Barrington town hall at the 2019 Mahaiwe Gala

The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center held its annual gala in Great Barrington, Massachusetts this weekend.

Across from the classic Mahaiwe marquee on Castle Street, the tent on the lawn behind Great Barrington town hall was full Saturday night for the sold out gala, featuring one of comedy’s biggest stars.

“This is the highlight of our summer season – actually, our entire year. A stellar performance by John Mulaney, a chance to honor our past chair, Maggie Buchwald, a beautiful evening in the Berkshires, and the best of everything," said Beryl Jolly. "We’re really excited about tonight.”

Jolly is the executive director of the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, the almost 700 seat theater in downtown Great Barrington. The gala – which brought in over $450,000 to the nonprofit – is more than just the emotional centerpiece of the year.

“It’s actually close to 10 percent of our contributed income for the whole year," said the executive director. "We have a $2.5 million budget and about half of that is contributed income, so tonight’s overall ticket sales and donations is a really significant component, and it’s also a chance for the community to come together and demonstrate really what the Mahaiwe means to them.”

The center is open roughly 140 nights a year. Jolly says the variety of programming shows how the Mahaiwe serves a broad swath of the Southern Berkshire community.

“We can have Buddy Guy one night, a school time show or a Free Fun Friday the next day, and then a classic movie or a John Mulaney event tonight," she told WAMC.

Built in 1904, the theater’s contemporary identity was cemented by founder Lola Jaffe in 2002 when the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center nonprofit was formed. Formerly owned by a cinema chain, the new organization invested $9 million into the building, and it was fully renovated and re-opened in 2005. Now, it has a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Well, I started the whole thing, yes, from the ground up," said the founder.

Jaffe remembers the crumbling walls and sinking roof she confronted when she first took on the Mahaiwe restoration project - a far cry from the theater today, with its gilded, intricate designs that detail its warmly painted interior.

“At that time here in the Berkshires, there was not year-round performances," Jaffe told WAMC. "It was only in the summertime. And I was determined that the Berkshires needed year round performance.”

“I remember coming down here as a kid in a cold, dark theater, and we’d watch movies up in the balcony with no heat,"  said Smitty Pignatelli, the Democrat and lifelong resident who represents the 4th Berkshire District on Beacon Hill. He described the Mahaiwe as an economic engine for the region.

“I think the Triplex Cinema changed the demographics of Great Barrington – I always say that the Mahaiwe Theater put it on steroids," said the state representative. "So I think the creative economy, the culture, and the arts, I think is largely in part due to the Mahaiwe Theater.”

“I first got here because of Lola Jaffe, like so much else in the Berkshires," said gala honoree Maggie Buchwald, who spent over a decade on the Mahaiwe’s board, six as chair.

“The main thing about the Mahaiwe is that it’s a place for the entire community, and we try to keep some tickets affordable, and the whole community does gather here, so that’s a really great feeling,” she told WAMC.

Some of the money raised at the gala will go towards a new digital projection system for the Mahaiwe's ongoing film series.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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