Bethel Woods Center For The Arts

Text | Carolyn Steinberg
Photograph | Sandy Long

The 1,000 trees of Bethel Woods have taken root and are growing, and so is the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (200 Hurd Road, Bethel NY). Begun in 1996, cultivated carefully and constructed rigorously, Bethel Woods is now in full bloom.  There are so many activities at the 1900-acre location that you won’t have time to do them all, so pick and choose, but please do be aware: Bethel Woods is not just big-name concerts and long lines of cars!

In 1996, cable television pioneer and philanthropist Alan Gerry fulfilled a life-long desire to take positive action to help improve the economic vitality in his native Sullivan County. Forming the Gerry Foundation, he acquired the 37-acre field that was home to the original Woodstock festival, plus approximately 1,700 acres of surrounding property. In 1998, the Gerry Foundation produced the three-day “Day in the Garden” festival, and in 1999, four days of concerts celebrated the 30th anniversary of the iconic 1969 event. Then came design, architecture and construction, using strong cedar posts, copper roofs and stone from local quarries, situated with wide vistas of the surrounding hills. The planning and construction involved over 650 New York State laborers, fabricators and craftspeople.

The spirit of Woodstock preserved
In addition to several concert locations within the center, The Museum at Bethel Woods offers an important exploration into the unique American experience of the decade of the 1960s, a thought-provoking time that is now a half-century past. The interactive exhibits highlight the social, political, cultural and musical transformations of that period, and their lasting impacts on American society. Visitors can also go outside to view the original Woodstock field with its memorial plaque.

Movies are also on offer at Bethel Woods. The film series expands The Museum’s interpretation of the 1960s by showing independent films, documentaries, foreign films and popular classics such as “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and “Planet of the Apes.” In addition, the Speaker Series is coordinated with current exhibits to present experts with additional related information.
And of course, there are the concerts. Headliners such as Neil Sedaka, Phish (with three performances during Memorial Day weekend), Dave Mason and Deep Purple will draw lots of fans, no doubt, for the Pavilion Stage area with its 15,000 seats. There is a wide range of ticket prices, ranging from $19.50 for a spot on the lawn to reserved seating up to $60. Season passes are also available.

In addition, the World Stage series presents music from other cultures, including African, Arabic and Brazilian musicians. These concerts, many of which are free, take place in the 600-seat Museum Event Gallery, an open space with a fireplace at one end and excellent acoustics. There is also the outdoor Terrace Stage, with seating for 1,000.

It may come as a surprise that facilities at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts are available for special events, such as weddings, corporate meetings, or family gatherings. The beauty of the location, high on a hill with great views of the surrounding countryside, makes an attractive setting. Catering services are available.

Something for everyone
Especially for children, Bethel Woods is collaborating with The Janice Center of Jeffersonville, NY to present “Music is Magic: 4 Weeks of Kids and Music.” This interactive music and movement workshop features songs, beats, rhythms and props to introduce children to music. Then in December, a workshop called “Holiday & Me” offers Christmas-time activities and holiday music for children up to age seven and their families.

The annual fall Harvest Festival at Bethel Woods occurs Sundays in the fall, offering a wide range of artisan vendors, a huge farmers market, specialty booths, a food court, activities for children, music and theater.

In a promotional offer to expand its email list, Bethel Woods is giving away one iPad computer every three months this year. In order to enter the drawing, you must join the Bethel Woods eClub, which will supply you with emailed updates on concerts, events and special offers. Winners will be chosen on March 31, June 30, September 30 and December 31. Bethel Woods has a strong volunteer program also, and volunteers who can commit to 50 hours per year may serve as docents or gallery assistants in The Museum, ushers at the pavilion concerts (training is required), assist at the Harvest Festival or in the administrative offices of the center.

Hand in hand with education
Bethel Woods continues its commitment to education by offering Educator Free Day (Saturday, August 21), when members of the education community are invited to tour The Museum free of charge. Museum staff and members of the Teacher Advisory Committee will be on hand to talk about The Museum’s rich array of offerings and answer questions about the center’s ongoing school programs. In a program headed by Margaret Hughes, Museum education manager, The Museum also collaborates with teachers and administrators to create customized team-building and administrative retreats.
With so many aspects of Bethel Woods available to both residents and visitors to Sullivan County, the possibilities are wide open. Elaine Giguere, executive director of the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance, is enthusiastic about the prospects for positive impact on the economy of Sullivan County. “Bethel Woods definitely brings more people to our area. Now we need to be able to capitalize on this influx by increasing our capacity for housing the visitors.”

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