Spencertown Academy Arts Center turns 50 and hosts annual book festival

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AUSTERLITZ – When visitors enter the 175-year-old Greek Revival building known as Spencertown Academy, they often feel a certain presence, an echo of all the lives that have passed through this place – from the musicians who have performed in the auditorium where legends like Odetta and Pete Seeger once took the stage, future teachers who studied Greek and Latin in one of the nation’s first coeducational teacher training programs, and a century of students from the primary, during the Academy’s years as a public primary school.

“Hundreds of children have laughed and played here and learned to read and write,” said Madaline Sparks, who served as vice-chair of the Academy’s board of trustees for 12 years and lives a stone’s throw from the historical building. “It has a kind of elegant, ambitious quality to it, with the columns and the steeple, but inside there’s a really warm feel – there are 30 windows, so all the rooms have plenty of light even on cloudy days. Many people have told us that they feel a sort of aura when they first step inside.

If there are ghosts here, they’re good ghosts, she says, and most likely ghosts who like to read, which means they’ll be especially happy this weekend. The Academy’s 17th annual Book Festival, which runs Saturday through Monday, pays homage to the past life of the building and the 50-year history of the community arts organization that inhabits it. After two years in a virtual format, this much-anticipated cultural event and fundraising effort will be on-site again, with a program that includes half a dozen author talks, readings by Youth Competition winners Academy Writers 2022 and a gigantic book sale with over 10,000 gently used items, from paperbacks and children’s books to limited, signed and out-of-print editions. (Academy members will be the first to participate in the book sale during the members preview, 3-8 p.m. Friday.)

Like everything at Spencertown Academy – including concerts, theatre, readings, art exhibitions and cinema – the Festival of Books is run entirely by volunteers, with the exception of one member. paid staff, part-time administrator Eve Zatt. This is how the organization began in 1972, when the school closed and a group of Spencertown residents banded together to find a new purpose for the white elephant among them. The city has agreed to lease the building for $10 a year to the nonprofit Spencertown Academy Society, which is responsible for all maintenance, repairs, and management. Over the years, the organization gradually expanded its artistic programming and donor base and eventually hired an executive director and staff. But in 2013, with finances tight after the Great Recession, the Academy reverted to an all-volunteer model.

“A lot of people thought we couldn’t do it,” Sparks said. “The Academy used to be one of the only games in town, and now there’s so much competition from other arts organizations in the area. But we have thrived and continue to grow because the people are so dedicated to building and continuing to provide cultural opportunities in this small town.

Volunteers are drawn to the opportunity to connect with other like-minded art lovers in the neighborhood, as well as the ability to launch events and offers in their areas of interest with minimal red tape . As a gardener and landscape designer and garden writer, Sparks has made the annual visit to the Academy’s Hidden Gardens her baby. For Wayne Greene, Sparks’ husband and board member himself, sorting through hundreds of book donations in preparation for the festival is both a scavenger hunt and a community-building experience.

“We have a group of about a dozen volunteers who come in almost daily, and the number of hours we put in is incalculable,” said Greene, a retired lawyer who also spent 10 years as an antiques and jewelry dealer. used books. “It’s a six-week process of getting thousands of donations into the building, sorting them into categories and checking their status. After sifting through, we’re left with around 10-12,000 really cool books that we feature in all price ranges, from a few dollars to several hundred.

He’s running a specialty book room at the Festival where buyers can find rare editions, art and photography books, and collectibles like this year’s surprise finds, which include an autographed first edition of “American Pastoral.” by Philip Roth, a book of poetry signed by Dylan Thomas in the 1950s, an extensive collection of jazz books and vinyl records donated by a lifelong collector, and a new edition of photographer Lynn Goldsmith’s huge photo book about musician Patti Smith.

Saturday’s program includes author talks by James Shapiro and Carl Atkins, discussing Shakespeare’s relevance today; and New York Times bestselling author Jean Hanff Korelitz on his latest novel, “The Latecomer.” Young Writers Contest winners Taibat Ahmed, Arianna Camacho and Amanda Gutierrez will read their works of fiction and non-fiction. For children, there will be an encounter with Elephant and Piggie, characters from author and illustrator Mo Willems’ beloved series. Sunday’s talks are moderated by James Beard Award-winning food writer Mayukh Sen; renowned historian David Nasaw; and Daphne Pilasi Andreades, author of “Brown Girls.”

For Greene, closing the event on Monday afternoon will be satisfying and also a little sad. “I love doing it and when it’s over there will be a void,” he said. “The people I work with have become my friends. We have come to know so many people through our association with the Academy, and it has been an exceptionally positive aspect of our lives. It’s easy to make friends when you have this common thread: regardless of gender, race or class, we all have this one thing that means something to us.

17th Annual Book Festival

When: Friday-Monday; full schedule at https://spencertownacademy.org/2022-festival-of-books/

Where: 790 State Route 203, Spencertown

Admission fee

Information: https://spencertownacademy.org


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