By Fred Contrada, The Republican
Published February 21, 2014
NORTHAMPTON – The Academy of Music’s first-ever capital campaign has received a big boost from Baystate Health in the form of a $25,000 sponsorship, a full quarter of $100,000 fund-raising goal.
The pledge, announced Friday by the Academy’s executive director Debra J’Anthony, brings the 122-year-old building a major step closer to a face-lift intended to restore it to its 19th century glory. The project, which will cost $600,000 in all, is being funded mostly with $500,000 in state and city funds. It includes the replacement of the building’s 800 seats, which date back half a century, restoration of ornate plaster work damaged by a leaky roof and the repainting of the theater’s interior to its original colors.
J’Anthony said Baystate’s commitment gives the campaign much-needed momentum.
“There’s the money, of course,” she said, “but there’s also the visibility that a sponsor of Baystate’s stature gives the campaign.”
Built by Northampton native Edward H. R. Lyman, the Academy of Music opened as a state-of-the-art opera house. Lyman deeded the building to the city in 1892, making it the nation’s first municipally owned theater. The Academy’s rope-and-pulley system is a throwback to the classic days of theater, J’Anthony said.
Many legends of the stage have appeared at the Academy, including Mae West, Harry Houdini, Rudolph Valentino and Boris Karloff. Time, however, has taken its toll not only on the building but on popular tastes. In 2007, the Academy stopped showing first-run movies to focus on live performances. Its resident companies include the Pioneer Valley Ballet, the Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestra and Valley Light Opera.