For the Daily Gazette
When more than 5,000 people gathered along the banks of the Mohawk River and Erie Canal at the Mabee Farm Historic Site in Rotterdam Junction last July to hear the Albany Symphony Orchestra, they got more than just a concert.
The performance was part of the orchestra’s Water Music Tour to celebrate the Erie Canal bicentennial. The crowd was treated to a memorable evening, including new music composed specifically for that concert.
But few may have realized they were part of the indelible connection the canal has to a vibrant arts and cultural scene in Schenectady as well as the Capital Region and Mohawk Valley.
It is a longstanding connection that continues to grow today.
Admittedly, I’m hardly a disinterested observer. As a former mayor of Schenectady, I can’t help but be excited about what’s happening downtown and along the Mohawk River and Erie Canal.
Proctors always seems to be upping its own ante. Taking in a show there has always been a special experience for me.
I’m confident the same will be said for the soon-to-open amphitheater at the $480 million Rivers Casino and Mohawk Harbor development. Talk about water music!
Simply put, the arts can be an essential economic driver in the region and can also promote community engagement and sustainability. Those are topics that will be explored May 9 at a forum at Schenectady County Community College, itself no stranger to excellence in the arts.
Getting people out to hear music also means they can experience what else the city has on offer.
Last December, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a $503,251 investment in Schenectady with a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program grant to design a new dockage system at Mohawk Harbor to accommodate major canal tourism, and to construct a new multi-use pedestrian trail that will link to the Erie Canalway Trail and the Governor’s Empire State Trail system.
When completed in 2020, it will be a 750-mile network of multi-use trails stretching from New York City to the Canadian border and from Albany to Buffalo.
Visitors and residents alike can already use the Erie Canalway Trail to explore the arts-canals connection, including an especially notable visit by the Corning Museum of Glass.
It will tour its GlassBarge, a mobile glass-blowing studio to mark the 150th anniversary of when the company that became Corning Glass moved its operations — lock, stock and oven s— in 1868 from Brooklyn to its current home in the Finger Lakes by way of mule, barge and the Erie Canal.
It’ll make stops in the Capital Region from June 21-28. I’ve seen the GlassBarge in action and it’s an experience not to be missed.
The Erie Canal has been a showcase of the Electric City for nearly two centuries. But it has never been content with just its legacy, as Mohawk Harbor can attest.
That’s important, given the temptation to take the Erie Canal for granted, given its longevity.
But it, of course, serves a very different purpose now than back when mules were still pulling barges. As it nears its third century of operations, the Erie Canal’s identity in the region can evolve again still.
And the local arts scene is poised to ensure that change will only be for the better.
Brian U. Stratton is the director of the New York State Canal Corporation and a former mayor of Schenectady.