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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The SPAC Stack: Beauty is facade deep

The unveiling of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s new look for 2009 was greeted this week with the enthusiasm one musters when presented with a proud parent’s ugly baby.
“How unique!”
The initial shock was followed by the appropriate public gusto with which one might rave about the emporer’s new clothes, while muttering things like “mushroom” and “spaceship.”
The vertically striped triangles on the outside of the 42-year-old amphitheater are immediately recognizable icons of the local landscape, right up there with the peaks and grandstand of Saratoga Race Course, the Canfield Casino and the Batchellor Mansion.
The facade may well have been due for sprucing up. But a facelift is supposed to perk up your appearance, not totally change your identity. Is there a need to change for change’s sake?
People tend to resist change, especially when it’s foisted on them. The new façade need not have been subject to a vote by members, but the public could have been brought on board by, say, inviting suggestions for a new facade.
The beginning of the end of the arrogant old guard at SPAC was its closed-door decision a few years ago to drop the New York City Ballet, a bomb that was defused by replacing the president and most of the board. One hopes the lesson about public involvement has not been lost on the new guard, which has done mostly tremendous things for SPAC.
One thing for sure, this is getting people talking about the place.
“I leave town for two months and they turn SPAC into a giant cheese sandwich?” was an email from a former Saratogian reporter.
One resident e-mailed to say it reminded him of a layer cake that fell flat.
“At first I thought it looked like a mushroom,” said another local SPAC fan. “Then it started to grow on me.”
Like a mushroom?
“How do you like the new IHOP?” asked a major SPAC supporter in a phone call Friday morning.
Sportswriter Stan Hudy said it looked like a short stack of pancakes, the “SPAC Stack,” part of a Denny’s-style Capital Region Grand Slam: the SPAC Stack, the Egg in Albany and a side of bacon brought home by the politicians.
“The look of the track is protected, but not SPAC,” groused one shocked patron. “This is all about tradition. Does the Statue of Liberty need a new dress?”
I don’t know what’s gained by replacing the familiar brown and aqua façade with beige waves – perhaps it was “so ’60s!” -- but I suspect we’ll get used to it and maybe even come to love it.
Beauty is only façade deep.
More important than the look of the exterior is what’s going on inside: pending negotiations with concert provider Live Nation, filling more seats for the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra, encouraging more memberships and reaching for deep-pocket donations to underwrite the cost of keeping this wonderful venue alive and well.


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