Niagara Gazette — The full-page ad that appeared in the Niagara Gazette announcing the opening of Artpark in 1974 stated it simply enough, “Artpark is a Verb.”
A writer for The Lockport Union Sun and Journal wrote of her first visit to Artpark, “It’s a people’s park-a place to have a picnic, to hike through nature and geological trails, to fish, while mingling with the various 30 artists-in-residence.”
The place we now call Earl W. Brydges Artpark started as an innovative experiment in visual arts. Under the working title “The Niagara Frontier Performing Arts Center,” it evolved into a multifaceted facility where, during the spring and summer months, there was a flurry of activity on the grounds.
Artpark hosted national talent, regional talent and even local talent in its early years.
There was “Artpark Spring,” a seven-week program that highlighted Western New York dancers, singers and musicians before the national companies took over in the summer months.
One local group staged a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” starring a local actor named Grant Walker in the role of Tevye, who died of a heart attack during the show’s run. Instead of shutting down, the local group forged ahead with Kenmore West music instructor Ronald Swick taking over the role.
There were plenty of national touring productions including a 1975 version of ‘Hamlet” starring a young actor by the name of Sam Waterston who later went on to achieve fame for the role of Jack McCoy on “Law & Order.”
In the 1970s the park hosted two of the greatest dance troupes in the world. The Joffrey Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet. They also hosted opera’s, jazz concerts and children’s stars like Sesame Street’s Bob McGrath.
All of those things did not make Artpark a verb, it was the artists in residence program that made Artpark unique.