Editorial by Sophia Smith
When George Osborne arrived on the scene at Artpark on Nov. 1, 1999, you could practically see the tumbleweed rolling across the stage. Artpark had recently gone from a New York state budget of over $3 million per year in the 1980s to less than $500,000 per year to run the park. In fact, when Osborne took over the helm of Artpark & Company, the last president of Artpark had already moved on to greener pastures and there was no one paid to be "running the show."
Thankfully, Osborne looked at Artpark and saw a diamond in the rough: a world-class stage (the largest in Western New York at the time), 150 acres of picturesque green parkland and a spectacular view of the Niagara Gorge and Canada. Osborne took stock and maximized all that Artpark had going for it, not what it had recently had to do without.
Faced with a massive amount of debt to recover from, Osborne took charge of 130 delinquent accounts and started to make amends. He ensured Artpark had repaid all of its debts, and called on every single business personally to explain the situation of lack of New York state funding. He knew he had to rebuild Artpark's credibility in the local community.
A few events and concerts that were scheduled before Osborne's arrival went on, but attendance was low and excitement levels for Artpark even lower. Osborne knew - and felt - that bigger and better things should be happening at Artpark. Soon, a light bulb went off in his head. Why not start offering free concerts and charge patrons for only the food and drinks? With an initial offering of small concerts outdoors near the main theater, Osborne soon had another concept for Artpark.
Since there already was a plethora of free concerts virtually all week in Western New York, the market seemed to be nearly saturated with choices for concertgoers in search of a free show. That is, except for Tuesday night, and Osborne jumped on that and ran with it.
Just like that, a star was born! "Tuesday in the Park" became the place to be every Tuesday night in Western New York. One of the early "TIP" shows - Blood, Sweat and Tears - brought over 6,000 revelers to Artpark when the staff expected about 2,000 people. Year after year, "TIP" shows became more popular with larger and larger numbers of patrons attending.
In 2011, Osborne was proud and excited to announce that the long-awaited amphitheater renovation would begin. Indeed, the project broke ground in the fall of 2011, and miraculously (thanks to astute contractors and a very mild winter) it opened in June of 2012 for the "TIP" concert season. Within a few years, Artpark hosted Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, Styx, Billy Idol, Sheryl Crow, Sting, Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr.
Artpark now hosts Broadway-quality musicals with top talent as well.
Of course, along with all of the world-class performers, there were many zany behind the scenes moments. Can we expect to read "Artpark Stories" by George Osborne soon? With all of the great accomplishments in the theater world under his belt, who knows? Perhaps George will become an author in his newfound spare time?
Osborne certainly should be very proud of his copious accomplishments at Artpark.
George, we are all immensely proud of you, and we thank you from the bottom of your hearts for all of your passion, hard work and faith in Artpark!
With all best wishes,
Sophia Smith is a member of the Artpark & Company board of directors and a freelance writer at Niagara Frontier Publications.