Academy History

History Exhibit Slideshow

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This exhibit of memorabilia and photographs is currently for view in the salon.

In the late 19th century, Edward H.R. Lyman, a philanthropist and Northampton native, had a vision for a new venue for culture and theater in his hometown.  On May 23, 1891, the then 1000-seat Academy of Music Theatre opened its doors to the public for the first time. One year later, Lyman deeded the Academy to the Citizens of Northampton, making it the first municipally owned theater in the nation.

The theater quickly became a favorite stop on tours of leading troupes and big-name performers: legendary French actress Sarah Bernhardt, film star Mae West, and illusionist Harry Houdini all performed at the Academy in the early 20th century.

The Academy evolved over time. With the introduction of film in the 1930s, the Academy screened the latest in silent film, soon followed by talkies, as well as presenting live entertainment. By the 1970s with 800 seats, the theater was regularly screening first-run films.  And in the late 1980s, with the introduction of the multiplex, the Academy was faced with creating a new business model.

Today, the Academy of Music has been reclaimed as a venue for live theater, as well as for dance, film, music, and arts education. The Academy is home to resident companies and partners: the Pioneer Valley Ballet, PanOpera, Valley Light Opera, Signature Sounds and WGBY. We are host to annual programs such as Django in June, GEN IV Dance, Berkshire Bach, Rock Voices, Young at Heart Chorus; co-present KidsBestFest and Youth Film; and, act as anchor site of First Night Northampton. We are proud to host the many offerings presented by Dan Small Presents.The Academy continues to present their own slate of national and international artists and stands proudly as one of the most iconic buildings in downtown Northampton.