SARATOGA SPRINGS — It was a completely different time. The early 1960s - prior to the summer of love, prior to the turmoil the country would experience due to the Vietnam War. It was a time that saw the construction of great public sector projects – sometimes in conjunction with the private sector, but clearly led by our elected officials. In 1960s New York State, the Governor was Nelson Rockefeller. A Republican – surprising, perhaps in that these were nothing like today’s Republicans – or today’s Democrats for that matter. Rockefeller, and the leaders of his day, used great public projects as the cornerstone of their economic programs. Whether you agree with his agenda or not in retrospect, Gov. Rockefeller’s economic model for upstate involved giving nearly town a public sector anchor – usually a branch of SUNY or, in some cases, a prison. But for Saratoga, he had something else in mind – a jewel. An artistic wonder that was to become what we fondly call SPAC. Perhaps his wife –Margaretta – known popularly as “Happy” spurred this on. “Happy” would later serve as Chair of the Board for the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in 1971, and was named Honorary Chair of SPAC’s 50th Anniversary, before her passing on May 19, 2015. But regardless, this wasn’t going to be an easy case of Nelson spending money just to please his wife. Ask someone who was there. “‘Rocky’ wasn’t going to move on this without seeing evidence of a strong civic commitment from the local community,” said William P. “Bill” Dake. The Dake family, as well as others with names like Lewis Swyer, Richard Leach and Marylou Whitney, among others, provided the cornerstone local foundations for the performing arts mecca to come– and one which has stood the test of time – as evidenced in 2015 being named the Best Outdoor Music Venue in the United States by a USA Today Reader’s Poll. Brick and mortar and steel are one thing, but the civic commitment that made SPAC what it is goes way beyond that. “From a programming standpoint.” Bill Dake recalled, “we recognized that we were coming into an age where live entertainment was being severely challenged by new forms of electronic entertainment.” In the 1960s, this would be primarily television, yet this is even truer today –with live performance being challenged by a myriad of digital entertainment delivery options. “Our response was to offer ‘the best of breed’ in every category,” Bill Dake said. “This not only included a spectacular setting, but also world class resident companies – New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra – and also the best of everything in opera, theatre and every other performance genre.” That commitment to excellence later extended further – to Jazz, Rock, and even multi-media performances. Whatever the state-of-the-art was at the time, SPAC embraced it. Because of that philosophical cornerstone, SPAC not only survived – it thrived. “What SPAC offered then, and continues to today,” Bill Dake concluded, “is more than a lovely setting, more than a performance – it’s a superior experience.” Some things don’t change – even after 50 years. When you attend SPAC this summer, take a moment to celebrate that the cornerstones, laid over five decades ago, are as strong as ever. Coming June 24: “All that Jazz,” the “Greatest Musical Day of My Life! And other surprises.
Friday, 17 June 2016 11:06