Academy of Music opens first-ever capital campaign Project will fund major renovations to historic theater’s interior, including new seating
Andrew Crystal, left, who is the president of the board of directors for the Academy of Music in Northampton, shares a laugh with Jonathan Wright during a reception for a capital improvements campaign Wednesday at the Academy. Wright, and his wife, Meg Kelsey Wright, are the campaign co-chairs.
A group of people gather during a reception to kick-off a capital improvements campaign for the Academy of Music Wednesday at the Academy. The architect for the proposed renovations to the theater is Thomas Douglas, far right.
Debra J'Anthony, who is the executive director of the Academy of Music, and the Academy's board president, Andrew Crystal, chat during a reception to kick-off a capital improvements campaign Wednesday at the Academy.
A display of proposed renovations
A display of proposed renovations
NORTHAMPTON — With a goal of bringing the 122-year-old theater completely into the 21st century, the directors of the historic Academy of Music are kicking off their first-ever capital campaign.
The fundraising drive, which aims to raise $100,000 by the end of next June, is part of a major renovation effort aimed primarily at the theater’s interior, one that will include adding all-new seating and aisle lighting, repairing some crumbling plaster and repainting the theater in a color scheme that matches the original paint job from the building’s earliest years in the 1890s.
The total cost of the improvements, once the capital campaign is factored in, will be about $600,000, according to Academy Executive Director Debra J’Anthony. Between state grants, funds from the city’s Community Preservation Act program, and other sources, $500,000 of that total is already in hand, J’Anthony added, and she hopes the academy’s place in the community will ensure that the last $100,000 will be raised locally.
“It’s been my experience, ever since I got here, that the Academy holds a lot of meaning and importance to the community,” said J’Anthony, who’s been at the helm for six years. “I’d like to think there’s a measure of support out there that will let us complete this work and really restore (the Academy) in all its glory.”
The renovation project is expected to take place next August and September and will close the theater for approximately nine weeks, J’Anthony said. If all goes as planned, the building will reopen the first weekend in October.
The work itself is led by Thomas Douglas Architects of Northampton, the same firm that restored the Calvin Theatre and earned awards from the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the Northampton Historical Commission for that job.
In announcing the capital campaign, which was in planning for three years, on Wednesday, J’Anthony and other organizers said they’ll be using a variety of means to publicize the project, from contacting the media to contacting patrons through direct mail and email.
Organizers say they’ll also use the campaign as a means to remind people about the Academy’s rich history — earlier performers included Harry Houdini, Rudolph Valentino and Mae West — and the important role it serves in presenting a broad variety of art, from film to opera to music, and hosting both national and local talent.
As Andrew Crystal, president of the theater’s board of directors, put it, “Where else can you be a member of the audience one day, and on the stage as a cast member the next?”
Anyone who donates between $250 and $500 can personalize a plaque for one of the new seats, while donors who give at least $100 will receive a specially designed T-shirt from a local communications firm, Clarity, that is working with the Academy on the capital campaign. The company’s principal, Laura Radwell, previously designed the Academy’s logo.
Comfort in mind
J’Anthony notes that many improvements have already been made to the building, both inside and out, in the last several years. Those include a new sound system, lighting equipment and film projector, the restoration of the proscenium stage and energy-efficiency improvements — done in conjunction with city government — such as additional insulation and LED lighting.
Outside, meantime, much of the once-leaky roof has been replaced and a new marquee added. J’Anthony said part of the upcoming work includes finishing roof repairs over the stage itself, and repairing plaster moulding that’s been damaged by those leaks.
She suggested Academy patrons might be happiest to learn the theater’s 800 seats — about half of them dating to the 1940s — will be replaced with modern, padded seating “that will become more comfortable after two hours, not less comfortable ... we’ll also be modifying the whole seating plan to provide much better access for wheelchairs.”
The biggest expense of the upcoming restoration — not quite half of the $600,000 ticketed for the work — will be repainting the theater’s interior, J’Anthony added, in large part because it will require a lot of scaffolding. But as part of their initial work, the architects scraped down existing paint to discover the Academy’s original color scheme, and restoring that became an important part of the project.
“We’ll be using salmon and some gold and green — warm colors,” J’Anthony said.
She noted that more than 50,000 people come to the Academy each year, and “we’re booked every weekend all year, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.” Between that, some additional summer programming for children, and the normal wear and tear on a building that opened in 1893, the capital campaign will fill a vital role in completing the final, needed fixes to the theater, she said.
Jonathan Wright, co-chairman of the capital campaign, said he believes Valley residents will be drawn to restoring the building physically — but that ultimately, the biggest appeal of maintaining the building will be preserving its role as a foundation of the area’s artistic scene.
“Bricks and mortar are great, but art is even better,” he said.