Save America's Treasures and the Berkshire RevivalSave America's Treasures and the Berkshire Revival

In the Berkshires, there is music to listen to, art to buy, dance to enjoy, rivers to kayak and plays to attend. If none of this interests you then there are restaurants, spas and cabins in the woods to retreat to as well. Since the last decades of the19th century when some of the country's wealthiest families built their summer cottages here, mansions to the rest of us, this region has been a magnet for visitors. Encompassing western Massachusetts, the Berkshires' interplay of culture, nature and history has created a four season destination today.

The dozens of cultural organizations in the Berkshires are a dynamic and diverse economic force that draws audiences and consumers to the region, making some of the area's communities synonymous with their cultural attractions like Tanglewood in Lenox and MASSMoCA in North Adams. Culture has also transformed Pittsfield, a former manufacturing center into an incubator for new arts businesses. In the 1980s and 1990s, the city shed thousands of jobs as General Electric downsized, leaving behind abandoned factories, empty storefronts, and compared to nearby communities, little to attract cultural consumers. However, a Save America's Treasures grant to Pittsfield's Colonial Theatre propelled its restoration and in the process, reinvigorated the downtown business district.

The Colonial Theatre was built at the turn of the 20th century as a showcase for the performing arts and later became a movie house, which closed in 1952. The old theater was kept intact as an art supply store with its owner hoping that some day the theater would come back to life. In 2006, the Colonial Theatre re-emerged after a 6-year $21.5 million dollar restoration. David Fleming, executive director of the Colonial Theatre, said in an interview when it re-opened, “We hoped for $50,000 in ticket sales in our first year, and at the two-month mark we're at $20,000, he said of the strong response to a mix of theater productions and musical performances. And now, we're noticing new restaurants popping up, and many are reporting seeing their best months ever.”

Today, Pittsfield is no longer a place on the way to Williamstown's Theatre Festival, Tanglewood in Lenox, or another Berkshire cultural destination. The Colonial Theatre's re-birth led a wave of change by local cultural organizations like the Berkshire Museum's multi-phase renovation and Storefront Artists, which reclaimed empty downtown spaces for studios and temporary artist installations. Artists, studios and galleries moved into downtown and a well-known theater company, Barrington Stage, relocated to another theater in Pittsfield. The Save America's Treasures award to the Colonial Theatre helped Pittsfield rebuild on an arts base and the prestige of this national award became a symbol of pride for the city and a magnet for a broader investment by the community in similar projects.

The Colonial Theatre is one of eight Save America's Treasures awards in the Berkshire region that have been catalysts and touchstones for community vitality, forming a foundation for the region's creative economy, which appropriately has been branded, Berkshire Creative.

Save America's Treasures Awards in the Berkshires

1999: The Mount, Edith Wharton's home. Lenox, $2,865,000
1999: Chesterwood, the studio and home of sculptor Daniel Chester French, Stockbridge $119,849
2000: Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, $400,000
2002: Mahaiwe Theater, Great Barrington, $250,000.00
2005: Norman Rockwell Museum Acetate Negative Collection, Stockbridge, $296,500.00
2006: Rev. Harrison House, home of a 19th century African-American leader, Pittsfield, $246,322
2008: William Cullen Bryant Homestead, Stockbridge,$148,000
2009: Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, Inc., Becket, $59,000