Our Opinion: Longer cultural season will benefit Berkshires

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Berkshire County has long been renowned for its summer cultural scene but a year-long scene has been evolving for some time. That evolution will get a jump-start with the opening of the Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood.

The $33 million center, which will be the home of the Tanglewood Learning Institute (TLI), will get a red carpet opening later this month to kick off a summer series of programs. The most ambitious construction venture on the Tanglewood grounds since the building of Ozawa Hall 25 years ago, the center is at the core of the $64 million Tanglewood Forever Campaign (Eagle, June 14).

But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this endeavor is that it will continue its programs after the Boston Symphony Orchestra leaves its summer home. The Linde Center will be in operation year-round, a critical addition to the Berkshire arts and culture programming that extends well past the summer months.

The traditional July-August Tanglewood season has slowly expanded into June with the welcome addition of popular artists concerts. More details will be made at summer's end, but the educational focus of the Center and the TLI will continue into what had been the off-season, and concerts by Berkshire-based groups are expected to be part of the itinerary. Education has long been Tanglewood's focus, along with music, and the Center will provide educational and cross-cultural programs that in the words of TLI Director Sue Elliott, will try to "bring people together for shared experiences that, in their own way, help to create a more civil society." (And yes, the year-round educational and concert building will be heated.)

Berkshire County's museums have long been the foundation of the county's year-round cultural scene but Berkshire theaters, famous for their summer productions now underway, have been gradually expanding their time frame in recent years. The Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, which is soon to begin its summer season, has been lengthening its calendar since Pamela Tatge became director a little over three years ago. All of these groups, which traditionally rely on the support of summer visitors and second-homers, have expanded their outreach to Pittsfield and other Berkshire communities. Indeed, that will be a primary goal of the Linde Center once it opens its doors.

Along with manufacturing, the cultural scene has long been an economic generator for the Berkshires. That role has become more important over the last couple of decades as major manufacturers declined and/or moved elsewhere. However, an expanded cultural season, besides providing jobs and customers for restaurants and hotels, motels and inns, could attract businesses and employees to the Berkshires by making the region an even more enjoyable place to live. The county offers aesthetic beauty, recreational opportunities, and relatively low taxes and housing costs in many towns compared to more populated areas. The Linde Center and the increasingly ambitious Berkshire cultural organizations should have an impact on the Berkshires that grows along with their vision.

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