By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY November 19, 2002 The Liberty Museum & Arts Center recently hosted a fundraiser to benefit the art deco Woodbourne Theatre, home of Sullivan Performing Arts (SPA).
The event featured an exhibition of works by several local artists on display at the old art deco movie house and poetry readings.
According to Walter Keller, acting SPA president, the theatre was built in 1936 and is now included on the national register of historic landmarks. With an eye toward the future, SPA bought the Center Theatre/Peace Palace during the mid-1990s.
Keller, who is also the poet laureate of the Village of Liberty, called the old theatre a wonderful art deco showpiece.
SPA itself dates back many years as well. As the 1970s began, the county followed the lead taken by many other entities in the state and created the Sullivan County Arts Council.
Originally conceived as a grassroots arts organization, its name and complexion eventually changed to Sullivan Performing Arts.
Throughout its existence, SPA has presented a wide range of performances including ballet, modern dance, jazz, pop, classical music, comedies and drama, featuring both nationally acclaimed artists and regionally and locally based performers.
For years, SPA called Sullivan County Community Colleges Seelig Theatre home, but two seasons ago the group completed its separation from the local community college.
Since then, it has produced performances at LaPolt Park on North Main Street in Liberty.
Over the decades, the art deco masterpiece in Woodbourne was ravaged by the passage of time and neglect. After purchasing the old theatre, SPA has overseen extensive refurbishing of the interior.
A call was recently sent out to regional artists to donate their talents in beautifying the exterior of the theatre. The SPA board selected the works of the following artists: Tamara Cohen (South Fallsburg), Susan ONeill (Westbrookville), Fran Schiff (Woodbourne), Carol Smith (Harris) and Lydia Zayas-Gorr (Monticello/Sullivan County Head Start).
In addition, a group of five artists from Daytop in Parksville created a mural to hide the crumbling facade of the historic theatre. Involved in the project were Rafael Alvarado, Mark Dobbyne, Bernabe Gonzalez, Luis Hernandez and Luke Kerv.
Were proud to be part of a movement thats positive, said Alvarado, 28, of the Bronx.
So far, weve cleaned up all the plaster, redone the roof and are starting to work on the seats, said SPA board member/event organizer Jayne Jawitz.
I do everything from cleaning up the theatre to getting the food out at events like this, said SPA volunteer and board member Joyce Perelman. Im so excited, I can hardly wait until we get the performances going in the old theatre.
SPA is now accepting sketches for the second round of murals to be displayed this spring. For information, contact the SPA at P.O. Box 782, Woodbourne, NY 12788.