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Reprinted from
Auditorium of new WAMC studio 
named for Gt. Barrington woman

By Derek Gentile
Berkshire Eagle Staff
Tuesday, February 12, 2002
(Reprinted from The Berkshire Eagle without permission.) 

ALBANY, N.Y. -- An appreciative crowd of more than 70 staff, city officials including Mayor Gerald Jennings, supporters and media convened yesterday morning to dedicate the conversion of the former Fleet Bank building at 339 Central Ave. into the multipurpose, state-of-the-art WAMC Performing Arts Studio for WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

The studio/auditorium is designed to be a regional center for live arts and entertainment performances, many for broadcast on WAMC (FM 90.3) and its Great Barrington transmitter, WAMQ (FM 105.1).

But the story within the story was the codedication of the Linda Norris Auditorium, which will be the main performance space in the 5,400-square-foot building.

The soft-spoken Norris is the wife of Robert Norris, chairman of the Financial Committee of WAMC. The Norrises, like WAMC Chairman and Executive Director Alan Chartock, are residents of Great Barrington. The Norrises, in fact, live up the block from the Chartocks.

People gather in the new WAMC Performing Arts Studio in Albany before yesterday's ceremony at which the studio and its Linda Norris Auditorium were dedicated. Projection screens show the building's exterior. 

$300,000 grant

Robert Norris, who is also on the board of the not-for-profit Lennox Foundation, was instrumental in acquiring a $300,000 matching grant for the renovation of the former bank from that foundation. 

The renovation costs were about $1.3 million, according to Chartock.

Linda Norris was battling cancer during the fund-raising process. A year ago, she was given three to six months to live. Her husband wanted the auditorium dedicated in her name.

So the board of directors of WAMC agreed, and in what everyone concedes is close to a miracle, Linda Norris was on the podium yesterday to express her appreciation.

"I don't know what to say," said a healthy-looking Linda Norris prior to the event. "As long as I don't go to the doctor, I seem to be OK.

"It shows me that all life is mysterious and magical," she continued. "I'm in the 11th month of not being supposed to be here."

"We're hopeful," said her husband, who explained that his wife was taking macrobiotic treatments and "feels pretty good. It's hard to explain."

"This should be named after Alan," said Linda Norris at the ceremony. "Everyone in this room benefits from this man's incredible imagination.

"I'm chagrined and humbled and confused," she acknowledged. "Last March, I was given three to six months to live, and I'm in the 11th month. But whether I'm dead or alive, I will always give blessings to this room. I urge the people who visit it to find something special in themselves. I wish you all good health and great joy always."

Norris got a standing ovation, and there were more than a few onlookers wiping away tears when she finished.

Chartock expressed thanks to Fleet Bank Inc., which agreed to sell its former building to WAMC for $75,000. He also acknowledged the work of Envision, the Albany architectural firm which redesigned the interior and exterior, and U.W. Marx Construction Co. of Troy, which carried out the renovations.

He also extended his thanks to the many individuals, businesses and organizations that donated funds to the project. Chartock pointed out that the $300,000 Lennox Foundation grant was a matching grant that the foundation required to be matched in three years.

"We did it in four months," he said. "And that money came from all over. It's not just Albany money."

226-seat auditorium

The 226-seat auditorium dominates the building. 

Chartock said his ultimate plan is to offer concerts, films, debates, lectures and other live performances on a daily basis. Some of them will be broadcast as they occur; others will be taped for later airing.

The project came together quickly. In 1998, WAMC was approached to buy the empty Fleet Bank building at the corner of Central Avenue and Quail Street, a block away from the station's offices. The initial offer of $50,000 was rejected by Fleet, but when WAMC upped the ante to $75,000, the bank agreed.

When the planning process was completed, WAMC paid to renovate the structure to include the auditorium and control, conference and dressing rooms. The bank vault was retained and converted into a practice room.

The radio station, said Chartock, plans to host a cornucopia of events in partnership with local arts and music organizations.

"We have a lot of plans," said Chartock, pointing out that most Sunday afternoons the auditorium will host string quartets.

Saturday mornings have been set aside for children's musical performances, with Berkshire County troubadour David Grover as a regular guest. There are also plans to show classic movies on Friday nights. 

Performances, movies and other events will be open to the public for varying admission fees.

"That's why these chairs are not bolted down," he said, referring to the chairs on which visitors sat yesterday. The retractable screen is located on the wall opposite the main entrance, while the main stage is to the right of the entrance.

"The performances you hear on the radio will be better, because now there will be an audience. Joey Thomas and his Big Band were in here recently, and it brought us all back to the Glenn Miller era. People were singing and dancing." 

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Derek Gentile can be reached via e-mail at DGentile@berkshireeagle.com

 © 1999-2002 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and New England Newspapers, Inc.


(This article originally appeared in The Berkshire Eagle and is reproduced on this Web site without permission.)


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