The Spencertown Academic Center for the Arts is 50 years old, and hosts the annual book festival

Austerlits – When visitors enter the 175-year-old Greek Renaissance building known as Spencertown Academy, they often feel a certain presence, an echo of all the souls that have passed in this place – the musicians who performed in the hall where legends like Odetta and Pete Seeger Tolly reside The platform once, future teachers who studied Greek and Latin in one of the nation’s premier coeducational teacher training programs, and elementary school students over a century, during the academy’s years as a general grade school.

“Hundreds of children laughed and played here and learned to read and write,” said Madelaine Sparks, who served as vice chair of the academy for 12 years and lives a stone’s throw from the historic building. ‘It’s kind of a bit chic and an aspirational quality to it, with the columns and the bell tower, but inside it feels really warm – there are 30 windows so all the rooms have plenty of light even on a cloudy day. A lot of people have told us they feel some kind of aura when They entered for the first time.”

If there are ghosts here, they are good ghosts, she says — and most likely ghosts who love to read, which means they will be especially happy this weekend. The Academy’s 17th annual Book Festival, held Saturday and Monday, honors the building’s past life and fifty years of history for the community arts organization that calls it home. Two years later in virtual form, this much-anticipated cultural event and fundraising effort will be on site once again, with a schedule that includes half a dozen author lectures, readings by the winners of the Academy’s Young Writers Competition 2022 and a massive book sale with over 10,000 items. Gently used, from paperbacks and children’s books to limited edition, signed and unprinted editions. (Academy members will get their first crack when the book is sold during the member preview, from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday.)

Like everything that happens at Spencertown Academy—including concerts, theater, readings, art performances, and films—the book festival is run entirely by volunteers, with the exception of one paid employee, part-time administrator Eve Zatt. This is how the organization began in 1972, when the school closed and a group of Spencerstown residents banded together to find a new target for the white elephant in their midst. The city agreed to lease the building for $10 a year to the nonprofit Spencerstown Academy Association, which is responsible for all maintenance, repairs, and administration. Over the years, the organization gradually expanded its technical programs and donor base, eventually hiring an executive director and staff. But in 2013, with funding scarce after the Great Recession, the Academy returned to the all-volunteer model.

“A lot of people thought we couldn’t do that,” Sparks said. “In the past, the academy was one of the only games in the city, now there is a lot of competition from other art organizations in the area. But we have been thriving and we keep growing, because people are very dedicated to building and to continuing to provide cultural opportunities in this small city.”

Volunteers are drawn to the opportunity to connect with other like-minded art lovers in the neighborhood, as well as the opportunity to launch events and shows in their areas of interest with a minimum of red tape. As a landscape designer, gardener, and garden writer, Sparks made the Academy’s Hidden Gardens Tour her child. For Wayne Green, Sparks’ husband and same board member, sorting through hundreds of books from donations in preparation for the festival is like a treasure hunt and an experience of community bonding.

“We have a group of about ten volunteers who participate almost on a daily basis, and the amount of hours we spend is countless,” said Green, a retired attorney who has spent 10 years in the antiquities trade and used book dealer. “It’s a six-week process of receiving thousands of donations in the building, categorizing them and checking them for condition. After we get that out of the way, we’re left with roughly 10 to 12,000 really great books to offer in all price ranges, from a few dollars to several hundred.” .

He curates a dedicated book room for the festival where shoppers can find rare editions, art books, photographs and collectibles like this year’s surprise finds, which include the signed first edition of Philip Roth’s “American Pastoral” poetry, a book signed by Dylan Thomas. In the 1950s, a large collection of jazz books and LPs donated by a lifelong collector, and a small copy of photographer Lynn Goldsmith’s massive picture book about musician Patti Smith.

Saturday’s schedule features author talks by James Shapiro and Carl Atkins, discussing the significance of Shakespeare today; and New York Times bestselling author Jane Hanff Korelets in her latest novel, “The Latecomer.” Young Writers Competition winners Taybat Ahmed, Ariana Camacho and Amanda Gutierrez will read their fiction and non-fiction entries. For kids, there will be a meet-and-greet with Elephant and Piggie, characters from the author and illustrator’s beloved Mo Willems series. Sunday Talks by Mayok Sen James Beard Award-winning food writer. Well-known historian David Nassau. and Daphne Bellasi Andreas, author of “Brown Girls.”

For Greene, the conclusion of the event on Monday afternoon will be satisfying and a bit sad as well. “I would love to do that and when it’s over, there will be a void,” he said. “The people I work with have become my friends. We got to know a lot of people through our association with the academy, and it was an exceptionally positive aspect of our lives. It’s easy to make friends when you have that common thread – no matter our gender, race or class, we all have This thing that means something to us.”

17th Annual Book Festival

When: Friday – Monday; full table in

Where: 790 State Route 203, Spencertown

Admission: Free


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.