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ARTS COMMUNITY LOOKS TO SMOOTH OUT THE BUMPS IN THE ROAD

Another millennium may pass before the Buffalo cultural community experiences an up-and-down year like the one that closed out the last 1,000.

With some notable exceptions it was 12 months of frequent swings from good to great to bad and back, from triumphant beginnings to public debacles to resurgence -- sometimes, all under the same organization's roof.

Consider the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

In April the venerable symphony announced plans to air the charismatic JoAnn Falletta's debut as music director live on WNED-TV in September. As part of the season-opening event, Falletta would share the stage with pops conductor Doc Severinsen -- a first in the organization's 62-year history.

Four weeks later the prospective dream team was no more. Severinsen angrily left the Philharmonic in a dispute with management over the way his pops concerts were to be marketed. For an orchestra struggling to overcome a history of fiscal problems and rancorous labor relations, the falling-out was yet another black eye.

Then, less than a month before the opening of the 1999-2000 concert season, contract bargaining between management and the musicians union reached an impasse. The orchestra's future, which had brightened considerably over the previous four years, once again seemed shaky. With the eleventh-hour help of a federal mediator, a settlement was reached and the season was saved. Falletta made her triumphant debut on schedule, but the live television coverage that would have let music lovers outside sold-out Kleinhans Music Hall share the electrifying performance had to be scratched.

Demonstrating a newfound resiliency, the Philharmonic disclosed in December it had recorded its second straight operating surplus, shed most of the $4 million debt that dogged it for years -- thanks partly to an unprecedented pension relief agreement with the federal government -- and landed its first national recording contract in two decades.

For the Buffalo Zoo and the Buffalo Museum of Science, too, 1999 was a bumpy road.

The zoo began the year with hopes of building a $160 million state-of-the-art facility on the Buffalo River but ended it battered by criticism of the plan, faced with the urgent need to update its aging Delaware Park facility and without the man who spearheaded the new zoo initiative, President Thomas E. Garlock.

Zoo leaders believed moving to the Inner Harbor, where the 90-acre facility would have become a regional tourist attraction, made more sense than undertaking an expensive renovation of the 23.5-acre zoo in the park and its outdated cages, which were built during the Depression. But the proposal was defeated by a withering opposition from the Parkside community, where the existing facility is located, and the Old First Ward, where the new facility would have been built -- as well as a cold shoulder from public officials, who put a higher priority on building a new downtown convention center.

The battle took a toll on Garlock, who after failing to sell the new zoo to the public and politicans, faced the daunting job of preparing the old zoo for accreditation review by the Amercian Zoo and Aquarium Association. He stepped down Jan. 15 after 4 1/2 years as zoo president to pursue another line of work.

Also departing the cultural scene, under somewhat comparable circumstances, was Michael J. Smith, president of the Buffalo Museum of Science.

In 1997, the musem unveiled a bold plan to update the Humboldt Parkway landmark and become a better neighbor to its East Side community, at a cost of at least $20 million. The plan called for building a parking lot over the expressway and a new entrance facing Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

But the expansion has remained on hold as museum leaders and architects shape the final blueprint.

In resigning effective Jan. 7 to to become executive director of the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Mass., Smith said it was time for the museum to bring in a new chief with "fresh energy" to advance the plan.

But sources familiar with the museum said his departure came against a backdrop of rising debt and restiveness among board members. The institution reportedely incurred operating losses of $200,000 or more in each of the last two years.

Both the zoo and the science museum are searching for new chief executives.

Boardroom turmoil invaded the Irish Classical Theatre Company, which triumphantly opened its new Andrews Theatre after a lengthy delay in January 1999, with the help of a $100,000 gift from patrons Peter and Joan Andrews. The handsome Main Street stage became the first downtown theater built from scratch in more than 50 years.

In return for their financial assistance, the building was named in their honor and Peter Andrews was elected board president.

But by August the Andrews were gone, losers of an apparent power struggle over the administrative and artistic control of the theater company. The upheaval also cost the Irish Classical Theatre its executive director and several other staff members.

The critically acclaimed company somehow put its troubles to rest, launching another full schedule of productions and is undertaking or exploring cooperative ventures with several other theaters.

For Shea's Performing Arts Center, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Theater for Youth, the close of the 20th century brought nothing but good news.

In May, Shea's celebrated its new $14.8 million stagehouse by bringing Andrew Lloyd Weber's "Phantom of the Opera" to Buffalo for the first time. "Phantom" was followed by another Lloyd Weber blockbuster, "Sunset Boulevard." All of the biggest and most elaborate touring Broadway musicals can now visit Shea's, thanks to the new seven-story buildout.

Over 14 weeks, "Monet at Giverny," an exhibition of paintings by French master Claude Monet, drew a record 167,000 visitors to the Albright-Knox, nearly half from outside the Buffalo area.

Along with other local cultural events marketed under the "Summer of Monet" banner, the exhibition generated an estimated $11.3 million in economic activity, setting the stage for future cultural tourism marketing campaigns.

Yet another triumph was scored by the Theater of Youth, which in December brought down the curtain on a 13-year odyssey by raising the curtain at its new home in the restored Allendale Theater.

The onetime vaudeville house, brought back from oblivion by the $3.5 million reconstruction, has given Buffalo's only professional children's theater a gem of a new home, and the landmark Allentown neighborhood another tourist destination and business anchor.

After a two-year gap, live opera was poised to make a modest comeback in Western New York.

A new group called Opera Niagara rose from the ashes of the defunct Greater Buffalo Opera Company and with plans to present "The Barber of Seville" and "Turandot" in Shea's.

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