The mission of the Academy of Music is to enrich greater Northampton's quality of life by offering first class performing arts and film presentations in an historic theatre of national significance, and encouraging the use of the venue for social, educational and professional events; the Academy of Music seeks a broad and diverse audience through its programming and outreach efforts.
The Academy of Music building is owned by the City of Northampton, which received the deed in 1892 from former owner and builder Edward H.R. Lyman. The Academy of Music, Inc., is the operating entity for the building, and it is an independent, private, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) charitable organization governed by a Board of Trustees. The Northampton Mayor and Smith College President serve on the board, as was Lyman's wish. The other board members are volunteers who have an interest in the performing arts, in the continued vitality of the City of Northampton, or who have special expertise related to the Academy's operations.
In the late 19th century, Edward H.R. Lyman, a philanthropist and Northampton native, had a vision for a new venue for culture and theater in his hometown. On May 23, 1891, the 800-seat Academy of Music Theatre opened its doors to the public for the first time. One year later, Lyman deeded the Academy to the City of Northampton, making it the first municipally-owned theatre in the nation.
The theatre quickly became a favorite stop on the tours of leading troupes and big-name performers: legendary French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt, film star Mae West, and illusionist Harry Houdini all performed at the Academy in the early 20th century.
The Academy has evolved over time. As Americans became less interested in live theater through the 1950s and 1960s, the theatre experienced a period of decline and was ultimately condemned. In the 1970s it was reborn with great success as a cinema for first-run films. But in the shadow of the multiplex, the Academy began to lose its vitality once more.
Today, the Academy of Music has been reclaimed as a venue for live theater, as well as for dance, film, music and arts education. The Academy is home to resident companies: the Pioneer Valley Ballet, Old Deerfield Productions, Greene Room Productions, and the Pioneer Valley Symphony. We have built relationships with our partners WGBY, the Out! For Reel film series, and the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School. The Academy continues to present major performance groups from all over the world.