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John Reily: Space needed for next incarnation of city arts center

To the editor:

Here’s to the Center for the Arts, long may it live. Friday night (March 22) was the final concert at the Northampton Center for the Arts in the D.A. Sullivan building, and it was an excellent, bittersweet ending. A full house heard guitarist Peter Blanchette give his annual Bach’s Birthday concert. The magnificent architecture of Bach’s music reverberated around the gorgeous architecture of this irreplaceable public space. Looking around at the ornate skylight ceiling and walls of French doors it is hard to believe that this used to be a school study hall. It is equally hard to believe that this space is reverting to the developer to be turned into who knows what — apartments with 20-foot ceilings?

The Center has been the site of hundreds and hundreds of great shows and events. I remember storyteller Spaulding Gray, the legendary Neville Brothers and the newly formed Young@Heart Chorus’s performing with break-dancers from Florence Heights. The “World of Jazz” piano series was consistently brilliant every winter and showed that solo instruments actually sounded great in this acoustically challenged room. Week after week, swing dancers twirled on the big hardwood floor and Lisa Leizman taught modern dance. Year after year, the Center orchestrated our massive New Year’s Eve party called First Night. The Center for the Arts space is gone, but the Center still holds with an excellent leader (executive director Penny Burke) and proven programming.

There must be some place in this beautiful small city that would be a good match for the center. How about a location with room enough for galleries, a performance space and (why not) two state-of-the-art movie theaters, a la the Amherst Cinema? Let’s keep it going. Here’s to the next incarnation of the Northampton Center for the Arts.

John Reily

Florence

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