Bethel Woods Center for the Arts: Keeping the Woodstock Dream Alive 53 Years Later

Nestled in the heart of the Catskills, on the land where the iconic Woodstock music festival took place, stands the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. Aug. 15, 1969, marks 53 years since the festival, and Bethel Woods Center for the Arts continues to preserve, develop, and discover more about the event every day.

With 800 acres, a 16,000-seat amphitheater, Event Gallery, Conservatory, and museum, the cultural institution offers programming for all ages in the scenic area. As part of the National Register of Historic Places since 2017, the institution, and the award-winning Museum at Bethel Woods, work to keep the spirit of the legendary festival alive. 

The Museum at Bethel Woods holds a permanent Woodstock exhibit showcasing 20 films, five interactive productions, 164 artifacts, over 300 photographic murals, and much more. The 6,728 square feet museum allows attendees to truly get a glimpse into the festival which changed the music scene forever and launched the careers of beloved artists. 

Dr. Neal Hitch, the senior curator at the Museum at Bethel Woods, works diligently to bring more information about Woodstock to the public. Currently, the museum is two years into a five-year plan to collect as many oral histories as possible from those who attended the festival to put them into a searchable database. In 2023, the museum plans to hold pop-ups across cities such as New Mexico, Los Angeles, and Columbus, to hear from even more attendees.  

I think that the story that wasn’t written very often is the story of why somebody came, what happened to them when they came and how that has affected their life since attending Woodstock. For many people, Woodstock was a defining moment, something that we still talk about 50 years later.

-Dr. Neal Hitch on the Oral History Initiative

To mark Woodstock’s 53rd anniversary, the museum is hosting events throughout the week, including a behind-the-scenes tour and a look into how the festival was planned, and how the site is now managed and preserved. The public-facing program allows for a unique look at the current research happening on-site.

Hitch continues to learn more about the festival throughout his work, and every new fact keeps the spirit of the festival alive. Four young men spent nine months planning Woodstock which would become a message of peace and the staple for festivals after it. “If you go to Coachella or Bonnaroo, you’re really seeing the result of this dream that people had of seeing music in this artistic environment,” Hitch said.

Visit the grounds of the Woodstock festival at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, and celebrate with some of the people who know it best. For more information about the cultural institution, programs, and events, visit the center’s website.

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