History & Founding of Bethel Woods

Love is our foundation.

Woodstock monument at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts

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The story of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts begins with Alan Gerry, a born-and-raised resident of Liberty, NY.

Gerry, a cable television pioneer who founded Cablevision Industries Corporation (CVI) in the early 1970s, became passionate about philanthropy and improving the quality of life in his beloved Sullivan County. In the mid-1990s, he created the Gerry Foundation and founded Bethel Woods Center for the Arts as a project of the foundation. His vision?  To improve the quality of life and revitalize the economy of the once vibrant Catskills. After the collapse of the tourism industry that had boomed throughout the twentieth century, the county suffered severe economic hardship. He saw the center as a way to inspire betterment through the arts and humanities.

After the Gerry Foundation acquired the 37-acre field in Bethel, NY where the original Woodstock Music & Art Fair took place, as well as 700 acres of surrounding property, the foundation produced the “Day in the Garden” music festival. This three-day event reawakened the potential of the long-dormant site. The following year marked the 30th anniversary of the 1969 festival, and was celebrated with four days of music and entertainment. It was this anniversary celebration that solidified the need for a world-class entertainment and arts center.

Breaking Ground

In 2002, at the foundation’s direction, the architectural firm Westlake Reed Leskosky began designing a cultural and performing arts center that would become Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.

Known for their innovative and sustainable architectural design, the firm created a center that would complement the rural character of the iconic site. Built by Suffolk Construction using locally quarried stone, copper, and an innovative wood structure, the center received LEED-certification as a green building before opening to the public.

Opening Day

On July 4, 2006, the New York Philharmonic performed as the $150-million, multi-venue project opened for its inaugural season. Since then, legendary performers have graced the center’s stages, featuring artists from across the musical spectrum including Elton John, Dave Matthews Band, Sting, Pitbull, Jimmy Buffet, Van Halen, Jason Aldean, Lady Gaga, and more.

The Legacy Lives On

In 2012, Bethel Woods transformed from a project of the Gerry Foundation into a 501(c)3 public charity, governed by an independent board of trustees with Alan Gerry serving as Chairman of the Board.

The Board of Directors continue to serve the community and the region, expanding its reach and impact thanks to the support of staff, volunteers, and supporters.

The Museum at Bethel Woods

The Museum at Bethel Woods is an integral part of the campus and the inspiration for our programming. It tells the story of the ’60s and the making of the music of the festival and the lasting legacy. Immersive multi-media experiences, rare film footage, interactive displays, text panels, and artifacts tell the history of the Sixties and Woodstock, just steps from the field where the three-day festival happened.  The Museum includes permanent and special exhibits, the festival field, the Woodstock monument, films, docent-led tours, the Bindy Bazaar trails, and supporting programming, as well as a café and museum shop. Annual special exhibits include outdoor sculpture, and in-depth looks at a range of relevant topics, from civil rights to war and peace, and more.

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