About Arts Heritage
The Performing Arts Heritage Trail was created to enable residents and visitors to the region to explore the cultural offerings of the Upper Housatonic Valley, including several of the country’s oldest and most esteemed stages. Here are examples of performing arts venues, many of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places:
- The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington and The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, two restored Gilded-Age halls with a legacy ranging from vaudeville to opera, both of which present a diverse range of films and performing artists in all disciplines.
- Three historic chamber music series – Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, tracing its origins to the 1890s, home to the Yale Summer School of Music in a “shed” dating to 1906; South Mountain Concerts, established in 1918 and still presenting high-caliber recitals in early autumn; and Music Mountain, founded in 1930 as the permanent home for the Gordon String Quartet — one of the leading groups of its time — and continuing to present chamber music as well as jazz and choral concerts.
- Jacob’s Pillow, home of the world-famous dance festival that dates back to 1930, and Tanglewood, summer home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1940, both celebrated across the globe for bringing the world’s greatest stars of, respectively, dance and classical music, to enthusiastic audiences on their bucolic grounds.
- Berkshire Theatre Festival, founded in 1928 and one of the oldest professional regional theaters in the United States, whose Main Stage was designed and built by Stanford White in 1888 as the Stockbridge Casino.
- Barrington Stage, originally a 1912 vaudeville theater in downtown Pittsfield that was purchased, renovated, and renamed in 2007 as the permanent home of Barrington Stage Company.
- TriArts Sharon Playhouse, tracing its roots to the late 1920s, when a group of stage-struck dreamers formed a play-reading group for their own pleasure, which evolved into a public theater.
- Shakespeare & Company, which in 2000 purchased a 30-acre Lenox campus as its permanent home after two decades of staging productions at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s turn-of-the century estate, yet another historic venue for readings, lectures, and theatrical productions.
- Infinity Music Hall, a restored 1883 Victorian theater housing one of region’s newest stages, showcasing live folk, jazz, blues, rock, and classical music.
- The Berkshire Museum, which opened in 1903 and as it expanded began to host plays, lectures, and recitals, including appearances by Gertrude Stein, Maxine Sullivan, and – in conjunction with Berkshire Theatre Festival – Anne Bancroft, William Gibson, and Lee Strasburg.
The region’s newest performing arts initiatives, such as the Berkshire Fringe, thrive alongside more established cultural organizations, such as Aston Magna, the nation’s oldest summer festival devoted to early music played on period instrument – in this case, literally, since both take place at The Daniel Arts Center on the campus of Bard College at Simon’s Rock.
And while some venues have succumbed to history – such as the Music Inn, which from 1950 to 1979 presented giants of jazz, blues, folk, and rock including Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, the Eagles, Lou Reed, and Bruce Springsteen – others flourish over time, such as the Guthrie Center, an intimate music hall in the church made famous by Arlo Guthrie’s classic song, “Alice’s Restaurant.”
These sites and more comprise the Performing Arts Trail of the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area.
Literary Arts Heritage
We are currently developing programs and projects in the Literary Arts, including a Writer’s Residency at Arrowhead in Pittsfield, home of Herman Melville. Housatonic Heritage is also supporting a new literary project in Northwest Connecticut, and a literary arts journal called PAGE was published in 2013.