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Albany Institute of History and Art

Photo: Joe Putrock

The Capital Region’s 10 most significant arts institutions of the past 30 years

We cast a pretty wide net when we asked people to pick the best arts institutions, because the Capital Region is truly blessed by the gods (and goddesses) of the arts with great museums, galleries and performance venues.

The three that tied for No. 1 are no surprise; they’re popular and complement each other nicely. The Albany Institute of History and Art is our “hometown” museum; its collections reflect the very fabric of our cultural lives, from artifacts and photographs from, and of, eras past, to a superb collection of Hudson River School paintings. The New York State Museum mirrors the AIHA mission, but on a statewide scale. Its collections reflect achievements in science, art and culture. The Saratoga Performing Arts Center is a tribute to a public-spirited vision—from the likes of Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, and, more recently, Sen. Joseph Bruno—that the lives of citizens are enriched by a venue that hosts dance, and classical and pop music performances.

Proctors is arguably the biggest revitalization success story of them all. Using the original, grand 1926 cinema and vaudeville house as a base, volunteers and civic-minded politicians have brought into being an arts center powerhouse with multiple, flexible performance venues.

The Egg is another Rockefeller legacy. It may look more like the cup the egg would be served in, but its two theaters, the Hart and the Swyer, are gems.

Albany Center Gallery has traveled a long road (figuratively and literally) from its days under the stewardship of Les Urbach, and continues to showcase the most innovative local artists.

Caffe Lena managed to survive the passing of its founder thanks to the dedicated work of volunteers; it’s a Saratoga music-and-arts landmark.

Strange bedfellows: Tied for eighth place, Capital Repertory Theatre and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute don’t have much in common. But we love ’em both. Cap Rep is Albany’s longstanding professional theater company; the Clark is one of the greatest museums, um, anywhere.

The five-place tie for tenth place runs the gamut from A to P. In the Albany Symphony, we have one of the best regional orchestras in the country. (Cherish them, people.) MASS MoCA is on the cutting edge of art and performance. NYSTI, first at the Egg and (for now) at Russell Sage College in Troy, have been making great children’s theater for decades; the Writers Institute has brought great authors and poets from around the world to the cozy confines of Page Hall; and the Palace Theatre may be the best rock & roll hall we have. (And it ain’t such a bad place to see a movie, either.)

Survey respondents ranked up to 10 choices, and points were tallied as follows: 10 for 1st place, 9 for 2nd, and so on.

1. Tie: Albany Institute of History and Art (54); New York State Museum (54)

Saratoga Performing Arts Center (54)

4. Proctors (38)

5. The Egg (32)

6. Albany Center Gallery (22)

7. Caffe Lena (20)

8. Tie: Capital Repertory Theatre (18); Clark Art Institute (18)

10. Tie: Albany Symphony Orchestra (17); Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (17); New York State Theatre Institute (17); New York State Writers Institute (17); Palace Theatre (17)

Honorable mention: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (14), Williamstown Theatre Festival (14), Hyde Collection (13), J.B. Scott’s/J.B.’s Theater (13), EMPAC (11).

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