AS-AP

Interview with Mark Lawton, Deputy Commissioner, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation

Posted October 21, 2011 by Anonymous
Interviewer: 
Sandra Q. Firmin, Curator, UB Art Gallery
Interview Date: 
Friday, March 4, 2011
Person Interviewed: 
Mark Lawton, Deputy Commissioner, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation
Place of Interview: 
The Home of Mark Lawton in Saratoga Springs, NY.

PREFACE


The following oral history transcript is the result of a recorded interview with Mark Lawton recorded on March 4, 2011. The interview took place at the home of Mark Lawton and was conducted by Sandra Q. Firmin. This interview was funded by the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA).

 

 

 


Mark Lawton and Sandra Q. Firmin have reviewed the transcript and have made corrections and emendations. The reader should bear in mind that he or she is reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.

  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.
 

INTERVIEW

 

SANDRA FIRMIN:  The following interview is being conducted with Mark Lawton on behalf of Art Spaces Archives Project, for the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College. The interview is taking place on March 4th, 2011, at Mark Lawton’s home in Saratoga Springs, NY. The person conducting the interview is Sandra Q. Firmin.

So maybe we could take this chronologically and start with your background, like where you grew up and your initial experiences, encounters with art?

 

MARK LAWTON:  Initial experiences in what, now?

 

FIRMIN:  Or encounters. Well, to begin with—

 

LAWTON:  Well, without getting too— I’m going to shorten it up. I don’t think you really want all the boring details. I was born in the Bronx. And apparently— I don’t know what all. There’s a lot of these things I don’t know, and I’m only telling you what I do know, okay? Apparently, my mother, for whatever reasons, abandoned the children. And I was a couple of months old. So naturally, the city welfare people took it over and they— eventually, what happened is I ended up in a series of foster homes. That was largely my upbringing, until I went into the Marine Corps at sixteen. I had very little contact with my family, per se. I don’t know, really, very much about my family. I later on learned that I did have two brothers. We weren’t raised together. And there was a possibility of a sister, but we’ve never been able to figure it out, never been able to work it out. I had very sporadic and irregular contact with any of my siblings, you would call them, my brothers. Apparently, it was an interesting time in New York City. You know, still a depression time, still pretty economically depressed. I imagine that’s what put a lot of stress on whatever was going on, and that probably is what resulted in something. The only thing I’ve ever been able to find out is that she [my mother] originally came from Hartford, Connecticut and she came into New York City, I guess like everybody does, for opportunity, and whatever happened, happened and that was it, okay? So the next thing I knew, I was in the Marine Corps.

 

FIRMIN:  What were your early encounters with art?

 

LAWTON:  Well, that’s what I’m trying to say is I had no real encounters with art, up until that time. I think the only time I became conscious of art was when I would play hooky or I would be able to get out of the institutional setting. And I would do things like find out what was in Carnegie Hall. Now, I didn’t understand that you buy tickets and you go, so I found a way to get into it to listen to rehearsals. So I listened to Toscanini rehearsing, which is probably—I didn’t realize—such a unique experience. I responded to it in my own way, my own sense. And then the other thing I used to do is visit museums. The museums were free in New York. If you could get into Manhattan, you could roam around and walk in and out of museums. And as long as you were reasonably well behaved, you could basically look around, see what there is to see. So museums became my exposure to art at that point. So I never had any formal training in art or any formal art classes of any sort, so I didn’t really understand all of what I was seeing; I was just appreciating, which I think there’s a difference. And when I went into the Marine Corps, I ended up being shipped overseas. The Marine Corps was a very strange experience for me, because in part, it’s anti-intellectual. My sense is, I, for some reason, very early on, I decided I liked reading. So I read a lot, as much as I could. And in the Marine Corps, you don’t read. You’re considered somehow some sort of queer or some weird person.  It’s alright to look at comics, but it’s good to look at real books because you’re not supposed to do that. It’s unmanly, okay? But I did it anyway. So I ended up overseas, and that’s really where I— overseas in Korea, Japan, I got a sense of what  art was about in life, because I think the Japanese culture particularly was very, very— It was in very bad shape. It was after the war, it was in the fifties. It was not a booming economy at all. In fact, it was very, very poor. I was up in Yamanaka, where I was stationed; and from there, I would go over to Korea periodically. Korea was devastated. The only thing that survives is some of its cultural images. And I saw some of those. In Japan, however, I took it as art, although I’m sure it was reli[gion]— I don’t know what it was. All I knew was it was aesthetically beautiful. They didn’t have, at the time, formal galleries or anything, but they had places. Like Kamakura was a place where you went to see cultural stuff. I mean, it was [some] sort of a big Buddhist center. So you saw a lot of this, you know, Buddhist statues and— I mean, that introduced me to a whole different aesthetic. And the other thing is that the Japanese do strange things. At the time, did strange things; I don’t know any longer, what they do. You know, if you took a bus in Japan, there were flowers in the bus. You know, they put little flowers around and they— I mean, in the poorest of poor—because Japan was extraordinarily poor at the time; I mean, I’m talking about very, very poor—it always had room for beauty. And that impressed the hell out of me. I mean, you know, whether it was kimonos that ordinary people wore, or it’s the way they prepared things, because preparing food was as much an art form as it was eating it. I mean, so you looked at the beauty of it and the composition of it, as important as eating it. And I guess that may have been because they didn’t have much to eat. [they laugh] So you had to extend the pleasure, I guess, I don’t know. But anyway, by the time I got back to the States, I really didn’t know much of what to do. So I went back to New York City, got a job, worked in a factory. And basically, didn’t know until I met an old Marine Corps buddy on the street, who said he was going to school. I didn’t really pay any attention to the fact I had the GI Bill. I didn’t know what it meant and what it was supposed to be. Nobody ever talked to me about college. And I had not really ever finished. Like, I never went to my college commencement. And I don’t know whether I ever got a high school degree, because I walked away. I just walked into the Marine Corps. I was working. I had to make a living. It was a very strange thing. Anyway, so I didn’t pay attention to degrees and that sort of stuff. So I don’t know, maybe some day I should go back and find out whether I have a high school diploma. I didn’t know whether I do. In the same way, Syracuse finally mailed me my diploma, because I didn’t—

 

FIRMIN:  What did you get the diploma in?

 

LAWTON:  My diploma was in political science-slash-economics, okay? I became very interested in economics. And when I got out of that— I’m trying to think if— I had a serious— I went to work for Olivetti. I don’t know whether you know. It was really strange. I liked their— They used to have a beautiful— They had the best storefront on Fifth Avenue. When I went down to look for work, I decided I didn’t want to work in a factory. I got into a lot of trouble with unions, because I didn’t think they were representing the workers. And I got beaten up as a result of it, so I decided this is not a real good place to be. So I decided I’d look for a white collar job, you know? And one thing I’ve always been able to do is, I’m reasonably capable of— I’d probably make a good salesman. I’m reasonably good at convincing people. If I’m convinced, I can convince people to do certain things or buy certain things. So I was going up Fifth Avenue, which I always love because it’s on its way up to the museums, and I saw this beautiful storefront. It was an art gallery. I mean, Olivetti was extraordinary in what it did and in the way it presented stuff. You know, it was commercial, but it was beautiful. So I went in and asked about jobs. [laughs] And they said, “Well, you’ve got to make an application,” and all that. So I made an application. And what I did is, I didn’t realize that they had just connected up with Underwood. Now, Underwood was a very old company. So I went to work for Underwood-slash-Olivetti, and went to their training place and all of that stuff—ironically, in Connecticut, which is where they had their factory and all that stuff. And I became very— I like Olivetti. It’s a very different culture, a different country, a different kind of thing. But they were not terribly Americanized. [chuckles] That is, they didn’t understand the way America functions economically. It’s pretty blood thirsty, it’s pretty direct and it’s pretty— You know, they were much more— They had a culture of cultivation. There’s a whole different approach to things. And all I knew at that point was it was different than, and I kind of liked it. It was relatively easy to make all of their marks, so they wanted me to— One thing Olivetti wanted to do is they wanted everybody who was an executive to have advanced degrees. And I didn’t even know whether I had my undergraduate degree. [laughs] But in order to become an executive in Underwood, you had to have— A PhD is great; a masters in anything is good, is almost minimal what you need to have; undergraduate is just, you know, you’re going to be part of the furniture, sort of. So I said, “Well—” That got me to thinking about going— It’s like meeting my buddy on the street, after I got kicked out of the factory, and he told me— He’s the one that told me about the GI Bill and said he was going up to Syracuse and would I drive him up, because I happened to have a car. I said yeah. And that’s about all I knew about college is what he told me as I drove up. And he told me, “Mark, you know, you’re eligible for the GI Bill; you ought to go. I mean, it’s just like, they’re going to pay you to do it.” I said, “Nobody pays you to go to school.” [laughs] He said, “Yeah.” So I said, “Okay.” I went up and talked to them and it turned out he was largely right. And that’s how I went to Syracuse, because I drove him up. And he said, “Go see the registrar and talk to him. Tell him you’re a veteran. Otherwise, they aren’t going to pay any attention to you.” So that’s what I did.

 

FIRMIN:  So how did you get involved in government work?

 

LAWTON:  Well, let me first tell you that in Syracuse was the first time that I— What I was advised is to go into the college of forestry. I did. I started at the college of forestry, because it didn’t cost anything. And the registrar said, “Well—” I think Syracuse had— Even though it was paid for, he said, “Go to the college.” I did. College had a policy, if you took a certain number of courses, you could take any cross-campus course at Syracuse. So I took an art course, where you were interested in art. And that is the first formal introduction I had to art as a structure and what it was trying to do, what it was supposed to be about, what its history was. It was an art history course. And it fascinated me. It was a fascinating thing. But it didn’t lead to anything, really, because I didn’t think of it as a practical thing. So I said, “It’s interesting. It’s good to do, but it’s not necessarily essential to survive, I guess.” You should just be aware of that. So I ended up transferring over to Syracuse from— I decided I didn’t want to be a stumpy, I didn’t want to be a forestry guy, so I basically started taking economics and started taking politics. That got me somewhat interested in government. I’ve never been terribly interested in politics; but government and government administration does interest me. And so as I got out of undergraduate [school], I was interested in getting a job. [chuckles] And that’s really when I went to the Olivetti-Underwood thing. Olivetti made it obvious that I had to get an advanced degree, so I decided— The only school I knew about was Syracuse, so I asked them. They said, “Well, we do have a graduate school. Come on.” So I went. I still had GI Bill. Because I didn’t know that you have to complete college in four years, so I completed in three years, because I didn’t know better. I just kept [taking] courses. It wasn’t because I was bright; it’s because I didn’t have anything else to do, so I took courses [in the] summer, I took night courses. I mean, I took a big, full load, so I was able to accumulate [credits].  And by the time— The registrar came to me and said, “You know, you can graduate if you want. [they laugh] You’ve got enough credits.” And I said, “Yeah, but I’m not educated yet. I don’t think I’m there yet.” But he convinced me. So anyway, when I went back to grad— I still had courses. [inaudible].

In graduate school, I got into— This is now about the time when Kennedy was running for president. And he was proposing a thing called Peace Corps. I’ve always been a debater. I was on the college debate team, I was always— You know, and I was debating about the Peace Corps and all that sort of thing. That’s probably what got me interested enough in government to say— It was really Kennedy that made me— I wasn’t at all ready to go into government, because I didn’t think of it as an honorable profession, let me put it that way. I don’t like bureaucracies. But he had something special. Although I didn’t agree with his Peace Corps idea; that’s for other reasons, as you know. And I argued mostly against it, in debate and otherwise. I also argued against the, you know, two great— Sometimes you learn from the things you think you know when you’re younger and you end up being terribly wrong. I was also against the draft and I was very agitated about eliminating the draft, because I thought it was unjust, I thought it was socially degenerative. And unfortunately, with the Peace Corps, I lost most of my arguments; with the draft, I won most of the arguments. So we eliminated the draft eventually, which was, I think, a great unfortunate thing for our society. But anyway, the draft needed to be improved, not to be eliminated. And probably a lot of the problems we have as a country are because we eliminated it. But I think that doesn’t have anything to do with art. But it does have to do with why I became interested in government, because it got me involved in government and trying to influence and all that.

When I was coming out of graduate school, because of the training I had gotten in the Marine Corps in cryptology, I knew a hell of a— I didn’t know I knew, but it turned out I knew a hell of a lot about computers. And computers were big monsters at the time. We had used computers in cryptology in the military, so I knew what they were. I didn’t think they were anything magical; I thought they were just a simple set of relays and switches and stuff and circuits. So I ended up running the computer center for the graduate school, because I knew how to do it. I mean, I knew what the Univac was. You probably don’t even know what the Univac is. But I knew what these machines were, I knew how to operate them, I knew how to run them, so it became simple and easy. The consequence of that is the great choice I had to make when I got out of graduate school was, do I want to go into computer— what I considered a form of robotics? Or do I want to go out and deal with people? And I decided I want to deal with people. I did not want to have anything to do with the Peace Corps, but Kennedy was doing something that was dealing with West Virginia and dealing with Appalachia. It wasn’t called the Appalachian program at the time, but that deeply attracted me. It was between that and Chicago. And Chicago, I considered a muddy, dirty political place, so I wouldn’t— I was offered a job there, but I wouldn’t take the job. And then they had a national internship thing that Kennedy had, so I took the internship thing. The interns were put into groups at the time. And we were assigned to West Virginia, the western— that part of the world, to say, what can we do? How can we bring programs together to make something happen in this area? Because this is a— you know, it was not just poverty, it was a terribly deprived area. It was very hard to get to it. It had a subculture that was very, very— I hate to say backward, but it was different culturally—Didn’t have the opportunities. You had to get out of it, in order to be able to— And you came out of it inadequately prepared. So, I worked there as a federal [inaudible; laughs] and ran into— I incidentally ran into a number of programs which we tried— It was really in the crafts area. I thought some of the crafts stuff in West Virginia and in the western part of Virginia—Bluefield and those areas—had a lot of potential economically. I didn’t think the potential was in the coal fields. I thought the potential for the people was to develop some of that side. So I don’t know whether that was art. I didn’t think of it as art, but I thought of it as, this is an indigenous craft form that has a special— something special about it, and ought to be— Now, I have to tell you my ideas were considered totally crazy, because you’re supposed to demolish communities and rebuild them and do malls and all this, housing. I don’t understand building housing, when people don’t have jobs. You know, I mean, to me, maybe enough of my economic stuff that— So we like to spend money on stuff that sometimes has nothing to do with the root cause of things. And the root cause of things frequently, or the root of things is frequently very simple, or it’s basic stuff. And I thought the simplest thing about those areas was build on what they have and what people feel good about. And you know, I didn’t think of it as tourism. I don’t particularly care for tourism economy. But I did think that they had something to offer. I mean, they had something unique, which should be developed. And I had a lot of fun with it, but it wasn’t very successful, as it turned out.

From there, I ended up going into becoming the director of development in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. City of Alexandria, Virginia is a Southern city, very much. I was a Yankee, hired as a Yankee, because nobody would deal with the minority community who was Southern at the time. So I was sort of the designated fool, as they said, to deal with those people. And what I found, again, was there was a lot of rich stuff there. But it was something that the mainstream community really just wanted out of their community. I ended up doing a lot of urban archaeology. I don’t know whether you’re familiar at all with Ivor Noël Hume or urban archaeology or salvage archaeology, but I got into that whole thing in order to reverse the demolition that was happening in downtown Alexandria. I thought that we shouldn’t be demolishing, in effect, not just our history, but some very unique environments. I mean, I was very sensitized to the idea that this is— The sense that I had about Alexandria is that you don’t want to renew it by destroying everything that was there. But that is the American way. And how do you stop doing it? How do you stop people from doing it? I don’t know whether archeology is related to art, but there’s a lot of stuff in archaeology that is art-like. And you can help educate people. The way I got to thinking about art is if we could get— At that point, I got to thinking more and more that art has to be— Art is the thing that people have almost in their bones, almost naturally. It’s not that they don’t need— I mean, you don’t need much education to understand art; you really don’t. In fact, I sometimes think the more sophisticated education you get, the less you really appreciate what’s really happening. So it’s always the contrarians that end up bringing new art out. In West Virginia, I met a tremendous number of people I considered very artistic, very capable. Whether they were whittler or carvers, or whatever they were doing, there was art in their hands, there was art in their heads, there was art in their life; but it was part of their life. And it’s almost like that’s what they had that sustained them, as much as the inadequate food they had, the inadequate money resources. It wasn’t a money economy. And I found the same thing in Mudtown[?] in Alexandria, with the black community. [The] black community had music, songs, they had their own art forms. Usually articulated through church, because that seemed to be the most viable community place. Although there was some— You know, they liked their drinking. I mean, sometimes you can’t mix drinking with church, so they had places where they would meet to do that. And in there, there was stuff. Now, I didn’t know much about— That’s where I started looking at jazz styles, I guess. So I became interested, because I said, “This is—” I’ve got to understand this community. I mean, you know, in order to be able to help them and do something, I need to understand it. So the consequence of it is part of my life. I was invited to leave Alexandria, because I did things that were not acceptable to the powers that be.

 

FIRMIN:  Invited? [laughs]

 

LAWTON:  Yeah. I didn’t know better. Well, I didn’t know better. The simplest way to say it is blacks had never, ever, in the city or the county in Virginia, ever recorded— or ever were provided with the right or privilege, whatever you consider it, to record property. So they never owned property in Alexandria. Although Mudtown had been given to the free blacks by abolitionists. I mean, that was its history. But it was like a piece of land right outside of this downtown, which was a slum. Yeah, it was a slum, because nobody provided it with any services. It was a self-sustaining community, in the sense that it took care of itself. It had a pretty poor level of sanitation and education and everything else. And I knew most of the regulations. I mean, I knew most of what the so-called urban renewal and community renewal stuff was about. And I took it serious, whereas most of the time, I guess, it’s manipulated. So I started housing and stuff, and I ended up getting it recorded for black families. You’re not allowed to do that in Virginia, not at that time. But I had been very careful to make sure I got in touch with the Attorney General’s office, which was Bobby Kennedy at the time. So that was the only reason I probably wasn’t totally prosecuted for some sort of crime. But I was told very definitely, “You have to leave town. I mean, this is not what we’re going to do.” [they laugh]

It just so happened that the archaeology that I was doing at the time and everything had stopped all the development, had stopped all the destruction, because I used [inaudible] Smithsonian Institution and the prisons to put together a program that we did urban archaeology, salvage archaeology. And I got a hold of— I used to play handball and I also played squash. And I went over to Georgetown and played it, and some Jesuits were over there who loved to write and they were interested in stuff. I happen not to be religious, but they played good ball. I convinced one or two of them to help me write some stories, and I got the Alexandria Gazette to do a sixteen-part series on— I had to help the community understand what they had. Otherwise, economic forces were simply going to abolish it, were simply going to wipe it out. So I did Here Lies Virginia, with Ivor. Everybody loves Ivor Noël Hume because he was an Englishman, an architect-slash-archeologist. He had written books. He was, as it turned out, the Rockefeller’s archaeologist down in Jamestown, who straightened that out, because that was a mess before he finally got it organized in a proper way. You know, base it on factual stuff you find, not on what you think it should be and all that stuff. And he gave me the credibility. The Smithsonian gave me a lot of credibility. And then the sixteen-part series sort of clicked into place and you couldn’t have demolished anything, by the time it was done. I mean, they weren’t going to demolish ten blocks square, which was the original plan, to do a big mall. But I guess the lesson out of that, in the sense of art, was that the collections of materials and the presentation of them, I take that as an art form. I take that as— To properly interpret— The thing that’s wonderful about a good museum or a good place, a public place for  transposing or transporting what you know about art, is your ability— I don’t know about commercial galleries, but I know about public galleries. I like the idea that there’s an educational function underlying it. That really is. But you have to present it in a cogent, smart way. I think that’s what makes good curators, that’s what makes good art directors, is they understand that they really have a responsibility, not to make the thing look pretty—it’s easy to make it look pretty and unusual—but to underline the thing, you have to make it relevant. How do you basically tie it— How do you help that person through the process of understanding where it came from? Not to like it. There’s a lot of art I don’t like. So what? But that doesn’t matter. What matters is where it’s from and how it comes or comes about and what it’s about, tells you something about the human condition and something about human aspiration. And then I know it sounds crazy, but the urban archaeology stuff we ended up doing in Alexandria—or I ended up doing in Alexandria—was very, very, to me, formative, okay? Because I’m only now— I guess I was in my twenties, or maybe late twenties or something. Well, it happened that I met, at the Smithsonian, my— You should know I walked away from my PhD program, because I didn’t consider it productive. I thought it was very productive for the professors, but not for me. So I walked away from it. Which really ticked off most of the faculty on my little committee, particularly the guy who was in charge of it, who ended up being the budget director of the State of New York; he ended up being a major person.

 

FIRMIN:  Who was that?

 

LAWTON:  It’s Red Miller, Howard Miller. He desperately wanted me to be his, I guess, you know— People like to have people that are their people. I don’t like to be owned by anybody, right? So I don’t cotton to that very well. But anyway, Jesse Burkhead, who had been my economics guy, said, “You know, Red is looking for you.” I said, “If Red is looking for me—” He hasn’t talked to me now in ten years. I said, “If Red’s looking for me, he knows where to find me.” I said, “But I’ll tell you what. Here’s my phone number. He can call me anytime he wants, alright?” So it ended up that Red did call me a couple days later. And it was a fortunate thing, because he said, [gruffly] “Are you ready to come back to New York and do some real work?” [they laugh] I said, “Well, depends on what the conditions are. What have you got going?” “Well, the Democrats are taking over the assembly.” He was supposed to form a thing. You ask how I got back into state— That’s how I got into government. I took a two-year contract, and I was handed most of the stuff that was not considered serious stuff, I guess—[laughs] Veterans, the arts—as part of my job working for the assembly. We only had nine people at the time working for the assembly.

 

FIRMIN:  You mentioned that you were involved— one of the things you were involved in was the formation of the New York State Council on the Arts.

 

LAWTON:  That’s right. Because John Hightower— Rockefeller decided he wanted to do a council on the arts, and he had a series of meetings at Pocantico, at his home. Actually, it’s a home of all five of the brothers. And they had a series of real good conversations. I was always very, very nervous about combining politics with the arts. Very, very concerned about it. And I thought the only way— I mean, our discussions, we were talking about how do you do that? Can you accomplish that? And we looked at European models, we looked at the fact that most of the European great symphonies are supported by government. If you go to Vienna, it’s a city of music. But it’s a city that spends a considerable amount of its public resource maintaining its music. And that’s sort of part of its history, because it came from that thing. We don’t have that tradition here in America, of having patrons of the art. Except the very rich, who do occasional stuff. Never adequate stuff, but always— The idea in America seems to be to keep the arts as poor as you can. Which maybe tells you something about how essential the arts are, because they are essential to the poor, in fact. Because I think that’s about as important as almost anything else. You can get by in short rations, but you can’t get by without some kind of spiritual stuff. And the spiritual stuff has to do with the arts. But anyway, we had a lot of debates. It took him more than one—

 

FIRMIN:  Rockefeller?

 

LAWTON:  Rockefeller. It took him more than one session to sort of get enough people inter— As powerful as he was— And he was terribly powerful at the time, because there was no real legislative counterpart; there was only politics. The real politics were, there were conservative forces upstate, and then there was just a basic feeling that the arts just don’t belong in the public arena. It’s not something that the public taxpayer ought to be fooling around with. Now, that’s not the reason why I— I was more worried on the other side. I was more worried that the politics would dominate the arts. And I said, “The worst thing the arts could have is a situation where there’s self-censorship because you’re afraid to offend.” I said, “The arts ought to always offend. They ought to always provoke you.” And it’s a harmless kind of provoking. They don’t kill you. What they force you to do is to think hard. Or to be shocked a little. Which is not a bad thing. I mean, it’s not a bad thing to have some of your most firmly held concepts, aesthetics, perhaps, challenged. [chuckles] It’s part of keeping you alive. It’s why people do it, even in poor communities. Poor communities have as whacky art as anybody else. I mean, and some of it is not great art at all, but it’s an expression of something. I wish that somebody— You may— I don’t even know whether there’s very many people alive anymore that were part of that whole thing. But certainly, John Hightower would be one. If you can get a hold of John, he could give you a lot of— A person who meant a lot to me later on, Fred Rath, was part of it. I know he died, and I know Louie Jones[sp?] died. I mean, there’s a lot of people that were— because Fred and— They introduced me to a whole different group of artists that I was not aware of. Edna St. Vincent Millay, [are] some of the artists. So I didn’t realize there was as much rich art in New York State, upstate. I had no idea; I really didn’t. I figured all the art was in New York City. [chuckles] Or was in cities. But I think that whole experience, what I became was a conduit to the assembly side, some of the— They knew that I had— See, one of the advantages I have is I’m a crude person, alright? I’m not a highly educated person. I mean, I don’t come from an elite college and I was in the service, I’m a Marine Corps— You know, so I was acceptable as a vehicle to interpret stuff. See, if you have people who are true artists talk to politicians, it don’t work. Because they consider you a bunch of fairies and you’re looking for something for nothing. And not only that, but it’s not relevant. I know my people. My people don’t give a shit about that stuff. And that’s how they’ll tell you. So I think quite accidentally, I became a reasonably good vehicle for interpreting stuff, for being able to take some of the stuff that was always[?] informal seminars at Pocantico, which I started calling— Pocantico Flats, is what I called it. [laughs] I was able to bring it back. I said, “You know, you ought to rethink some of this stuff about— There are some important things about—” I also remembered my experience and the way I somewhat— not really self-educated. I happened to go to some museums in New York City that were so well curated and developed that I learned stuff. I mean, I learned stuff I would not have ever learned in the classroom.

 

FIRMIN:  Do any of the museums stick out?

 

LAWTON:  Oh, yeah, Museum of Modern Art was phenomenal for me because to me, it was always oddball art. And yet they were— Brooklyn Museum, the BAM was a fantastic— I used to go, if I couldn’t go— Because [as] I said, I spent very little time in the classroom, but I spent a lot of time in museums of different sorts. If I could get to Manhattan, that was the big time. But otherwise, I tried to get to whatever art museum was around. BAM had a whole series of lectures, of— In those days, it was slide shows in big— I mean, they did a whole batch of stuff that they opened up to the public. And it didn’t cost you anything. You went in and you learned. I mean, you hopefully learned something new or different. And I think BAM, the Museum of Modern Art, and The Museum of Natural History were very critical to me. I probably spent more hours in the [laughs] Museum of Natural History than I did in school, because it was more interesting. They had more natural stuff and nature stuff. There was the Metropolitan Museum of Art right opposite in Central Park—There was always something new to do. You could go to MoMA, the Frick or the Guggenheim. MoMA was important, but it was only emerging. Then there used to be, next to MoMA, there used to be a Folk Museum.  Actually, believe it or not, it was a crafts museum. So I had a regular tour that I did. And you know, the tour might take me all day— [laughs] I mean, it could take you quite a few days. It wasn’t something you rushed.  Those museums became a very, very critical and important thing for me. And I think that between that and Carnegie Hall I became aware of art. It was years and years before I ever saw a formal program in Carnegie Hall, but I saw many, many practice sessions and I saw many, many— I mean, I took it as the greatest experience.  I have most of Toscanini’s stuff to this day, but I never saw him formally. I saw him doing more rehearsals and his rehearsals were real. I mean, they were teaching moments. For me, they taught me something about music.  He was not just a perfectionist, but he also had a phenomenal conceptual capability. He could conceive of a piece in its entirety. And I thought that, God, that’s phenomenal. Because he then molded that group of people to do their best. I thought this was amazing. He’s trying— And he did it by bullying, by beating, by yelling, by screaming, by walking out, by cur— Not really cursing, but very, very harsh verbal sort of stuff. And the way I got into Carnegie Hall was I got to know the janitors and I got to know the cleaners and the guys that took the garbage out, and they let me in. And they told me when the maestro would be around. But they said, “Please be very quiet. If he knows there’s anyone in the hall, he will go berserk.”  So I had to sit way in the back and sort of hide and watch the rehearsal, which was fabulous. I learned how to be unobtrusive, but to be observant. It turned out, I guess, being a very rich experience for me.

I can remember that when I was stationed at Great Lakes, Illinois, I tried to find a similar set of opportunities in Chicago. It was the reason I wouldn’t take a job in Chicago. I couldn’t find any real cultural institutions in Chicago that, at least for me, worked, alright? There probably are. I’m sure that on the Michigan shore there are, but that’s not where I was. And as a consequence, I didn’t get— I didn’t know the city well enough. So I went to Milwaukee and discovered that it had great music. The music was phenomenal in Milwaukee, the music groups. And I did orient towards music groups. But they had very little in the way of major art museums or museums of any sort in Milwaukee. They had mostly concert halls, musical groups. A very rich musical tradition. But that’s about it.

 

FIRMIN:  And when you were in the budget office, when you found out [inaudible]—

 

LAWTON:  When I was on the Assembly Ways and Means Staff, I was responsible for cultural budgets. What I felt I needed to do to ensure that the arts didn’t get captured in such a way that they would become over-politicized or end up subject to political pressure.  What I didn’t want to have happen is I didn’t want aid to become dispensed by formula.

 

FIRMIN:  And that’s when you found out about Senator Brydges’ theater.

 

LAWTON:  Oh, that was— That was part of my responsibility, to monitor at art stuff. We were a very small staff, only nine people. At the end of session, at that time, it was always the week before April 1st. At the end of session, you’d have a ton of bills to deal with.  Tony Travia was the Assembly speaker. You would sit down at the speaker’s well and bills would come in. And you would read or look at the bill, and hopefully, you had some familiarity with it, particularly if it was about the arts or about your area. Veterans or arts development, this is what I was responsible for. This one bill came across, and it concerned a historic pageant theater in the Niagara Frontier. And I had been somewhat familiar with it, in a very, very cursory way. I knew the guy on Brydges’ staff that was sort of in charge of the idea of the historic pageant theater. Frankly, I thought it was rather corny; but that’s okay. So this bill comes across. You’ve got to realize that in those days, the last session, lots of bills got passed if they had a crossmatch in the other house. I mean, a bill to pass and to go on to the governor for signature has to be identical in both houses, okay? So you could kill a bill very simply by changing a word in one house. And if you change a word, it just kills the bill. It doesn’t matter the virtues or who sponsored it. And whether it gets to a vote, that’s always left up to the speaker. The speaker has the power. So what you were really doing is sorting through which bills will go through. I mean, Tony was funny because Tony was— He said, “What the hell is this historic pageant theater thing?” [laughs] I said, “Tony, it’s Earl’s stuff. Earl wants this. This is his. Alright?” He says, “If Earl wants it, he’s got it.” And that was— I mean, we’re talking about it was maybe $100,000 at the time. It was a member item.  It wasn’t called Artpark or anything, it was this historic pageant theater in Niagara Falls and it was in Earl’s district. That’s what Earl wanted. That was the beginning of what ultimately became ArtPark, because it was at least ten years later that it turned up in a whole different guise, a full-blown and very modern theater.

 

FIRMIN:  So fast forward ten years. You’re in a different position. Now you’re the First Deputy Commissioner of Parks.

 

LAWTON:  Yeah, I’m the executive— What the hell was I? I don’t know, I had so many different changes in titles I don’t remember.  But I think I was the first deputy or the executive deputy with Sam Aldrich, the Commissioner in charge of State Parks.  The Department had just been created. Nelson [Rockefeller] had just basically broken up the old conservation department into the department of environmental conservation, and parks. Parks had been, up [until] then, under Bob [Robert] Moses. And nobody fooled around with Bob Moses, including governors—except for Nelson, who was the only governor since Al Smith who accepted his willingness to retire. All the others would not. But anyway, yeah, at that point this was the next time it showed up on the radar for me.   I spent my time in government trying to get out of government. That’s one of the things that was curious [to me]. So I ended up working on problems that no one else wanted to tackle. Nelson Rockefeller was governor when I was working in the assembly; Tony Travia was Speaker and the Democrats eventually lost the assembly. But Perry Duryea became the new speaker. And Perry said to me, “I want you to stay.” Because he knew I was relatively non-political. And he wanted me to develop the professional staff. So he said, “I want you to be the staff trainer and basically recruit and train people to be program/budget analysts.” So I did that for Perry for a year or two. In those days, you knew the governor, because I used to go— When I was working in the assembly, because there were so few, you met with the governor to negotiate certain elements in the budget, or to explain certain elements in the budget. So I had gotten to know Nelson and most of his principles. And Nelson had decided, when he broke apart the parks and created [the Department of Environmental Conservation] DEC, that he would also pull away from the education department, the historic preservation aspects, because he wanted to move into historic preservation in a major way. And the base of that was going to be the historic sites, of which at that time, there were forty-nine. And being Nelson, he provided at the time, a separate board. It was chaired by his brother,  Laurance [Rockefeller]. And he gave that board $20 million to sort of do what they had to do—develop a statewide preservation plan, start organizing, or reorganizing or restructuring the historic sites, and try to figure out how a show of sites, whether we should have a state register. You know, all that stuff. National register, state register—how we ought to go about this. I knew about the creation of this thing. It was called the New York State Historic Trust. I knew that Laurance was there. The next thing I know, I get a visitor from the governor’s office. I’m in Perry’s staff, and I get a visit from some of the fellows in the governor’s office. And they say, “We’d like to talk to you about a job over at the Historic [laughs] Trust. And I looked at them, I said, “I don’t know a goddamned thing about historic preservation or historic anything. I mean, I don’t know. Why do you—?” They said, “No, we’ll make sure you— Don’t worry about that. What we need is somebody to clean up a mess we’ve got.” Well, they had used up about half of the $20 million on lots of patronage and a lot of other garbage. And again, it was like being in Alexandria. I was the Yankee, I was basically the non-political person, because I had no political connections, really. I mean, I never came up in any political— I don’t know very many political people, except as I’ve had to deal with them. And they said, “We want you to straighten this damned thing out. I mean, because it’s getting to be— It will be a big embarrassment.” I said, [laughs] “Well, okay.” I said, “There’s only one problem. You have to get an approval from Perry.” I said, “Like I’m not involved in politics, I’m not going to become a political pawn. If you can convince Perry he can release me, because I guaranteed him—” I always guaranteed somebody two years. I said, “And I’ve got more time I’ve got to do for him. So I’m not going to burn that bridge. I’m going to essentially—” So they did talk to Perry. He said no. But then he talked to me. And then he said, “I understand you’ve got to move on.” Because we were ending my two year thing. But he wanted me to join Mudd[sp?]. Mudd was his political guy. Sort of his Karl Rove, you know. [chuckles] So I said, “Perry, I don’t do that. I’m not competent or capable in the political arena. I can work for elected officials, but I’m not the kind of person that can make good political judgments, because most political judgments have to be either compromises or you have to forget about what’s right.” And I said, “I don’t do that. And then that’s not good for you. It’s good for you to have that input, but don’t put me in charge of this stuff, because then you really will have trouble. I mean, it won’t help you.” So he was, “Well, why don’t you talk to Mudd?” It ended up I put that aside, waited my time out, and then took over this Historic Trust. And the Historic Trust took me a little bit longer to do than I thought it would. And didn’t know where to put the Historic Trust, as a semi-independent— When they did the break-up of environmental and parks, they attached the historic site system to the parks. And now you’re talking about the clash of cultures. This was a clash of cultures, an enormous clash, because Bob Moses hated preservation, okay? And it was an interesting time to be putting this together, because he didn’t change the people, he only changed Moses. But the whole apparatus was still in place. And yet he wanted Laurance to become the chairman of the council. And Laurance had been the chair of this independent preservation board and he was serious about doing something. And really what it meant is you had to change the whole culture of the parks system. Which is not an easy thing. You don’t do it by simply changing the manual or the rules and regulations or whatever. You do it through a series of steps that will take you a while. And it took me seven years, okay? And part of that was that by— You remember, I said ten years later something showed up? We went through three different commissioners because the commissioners— And the last commissioner was Sam Aldrich. And there had been something going on out in Lewiston, [NY]. But nobody really knew.

You have to realize that the old park system was very semi-autonomous. The regions really did run themselves, until we pulled it together and started unifying. That’s one of the things that took us a while. We had to rewrite the legislation probably three different times. I was proud that I rewrote it without the benefit of any lawyers. You don’t need lawyers to write law. Lawyers love to write law, because they know how to create business for the future, by providing ambiguity in the law. Ambiguity provides them with an opportunity to interpret and to deal with things later, which— We don’t know what this means. Well, let me tell you what it means. Let’s take it to court. Okay. Well, that’s the game, you know. What are you going to do? It’s one of the growth factors in the American economy and you’ve got to— It’s comparable to medicine. We have too many lawyers; we probably have too many of the wrong kind of doctors in medicine. But anyway, that’s a different issue.

What happened is that Sam [Aldrich]— We were pulling it together. And one of the things we pulled together— certain elements we pulled together that are more important than others. I always say that any organization operates on two things, money and people. So if you control budgets centrally and you control— This is the magic that GE has. Companies understand this. Or some of them do. If you control the money and you control the people, the personnel system and the budget system, you have effective control. You don’t have day-to-day control; you don’t want day-to-day control, okay? You want people to be motivated and know what they have to do and hold them responsible for what they have to do. So in the process of pulling together the capital stuff and the personnel stuff, I was doing a lot of stuff. I was saving lots of money. I mean, we saved millions of dollars in the process of that. Because that’s what happens in bureaucracies; they get unwieldy. I don’t care if it’s private or public, it happens all the time. It’s just time, people, and people’s unwillingness to take on issues that are inessential to them, you know.

 

FIRMIN:  So when did you find out about Lewiston, [NY]?

 

LAWTON:  Lewiston, we first found out about in pulling together the construction budgets. What we started to do is pull away from regions, the ability to initiate and bid and control their capital budgets. We said “No, capital budgets have to have something to do with the mission of the parks system. What’s the mission? And where is it we want to do things? And where do we not want to do things?” Because you don’t do— The old Moses system was, Moses shows you the model and everybody repeats it statewide. I thought there’s a sort of logic to that, but it’s not particularly economic. So in the process, we learned about it. We learned that there was something going on. And it was starting to— I mean, if you start to— Somebody said a little while ago, a million dollars here, a million dollars there; after a while, it becomes noticeable. You notice it’s important. Well, that’s what was happening there. All of a sudden we started seeing capital projects that were now approaching $5-, $10-, $20 million. That’s a lot of money at the time. It’s still a lot of money, in my opinion. But it raises a flag. And we said, “Well, we better look into that. That one, we’ve got to target, we got— We’ve got to, first of all, put a watch on it. [laughs] And then we’ll basically target it for looking to see what we ought to do about it.” Now, we did that with most all capital projects. We were building too many roads, we were doing too many things we didn’t need to do. But Moses was an engineer; he loved to build things. And you know, having projects and having contracts makes you very important to people who provide money to politicians, so there’s a roundabout that goes about. I wasn’t particularly concerned about that. I don’t care about politicians, how they raise money. I do care about how the public gets served by different projects and what happens in them. So I told you, I’m not a politician. I essentially was trying to do administration in the most effective way, that would benefit the most people. And so that was the way I approached what was the— What was it called? The historic pageant theater. So we started asking questions. How are we serving? What is— You know, you ask basic stuff.

 

FIRMIN:  When did you visit the site?

 

LAWTON:  Well, when we didn’t get any answers. Then Sam said, “Mark, you’re going to have to go out and see what’s going on.” [laughs] So I said, “Okay.” Which is something I did pretty regularly at the time. So I went out. And I went out really unannounced. It was not a matter of being discourteous; it was a matter that I didn’t want to be set up. I’m used to the dog and pony bullshit; I don’t need that. What I essentially wanted to do was just go up, find out where Lewiston was, see where the site was, see what’s happening, talk to some of the workers, talk to some of the people that are doing the contract, talk to some of the people that live in Lewiston, find out what they think about it. You know, it gives you a different perspective. I went up there. I mean, it was magnificent. They had built this monster of a building, which I don’t even know what it was, but it just— I mean, I thought the historic pageant theater was supposed to be on a platform outside, and it was going to be facing the gorge and all. I mean, that’s what I remembered, or what I thought. And the kind of justification we had gotten, that was what it was supposed to be. That’s not what it was. This was a highly sophisticated, huge facility, which did not belong in an old spoil pile, first of all. And did not belong in the only area that was probably— It had been a winery, right? So they’d wiped all of that out and built this thing. And when I talked to people, the town people were ticked off. They were madder than hell, because they didn’t know really what it was. And if it was something that was going to be for them, they were walled off from it. The road, the whole planning for the thing was to keep it separate and apart from the community. I just took this all in, sort of looked at it and went around. I called Sam when I was at the site. “Sam, you’ve got a monster on your hands. I mean, this is a big, major facility. I don’t know all the details of it, but I think we better get a set of the plans and we better start looking at what the hell we’ve got and what it’s about and who, what contracts, and what arrangements have been made.”

 

FIRMIN:  And this was in 1973?

 

LAWTON:  Whenever it was.

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah, nineteen-seventy—

 

LAWTON:  Yeah. I said, “Meanwhile, I think we ought to connect with Earl. I think this is Earl’s district.” I wasn’t too sure. I knew they were— the district gets funny when it moves that far north. I said, “But if it’s Earl’s district, we better find out. I think this is the old pageant theater project he has.” Although I always thought that pageant theater project was going to be closer to the falls, but it never— it was. It moved up to Lewiston somehow. So I did go and see Earl. I knew Earl very well. I had worked with him. When he wasn’t President Pro Tem, he had been chairman of the fiscal committee; I had worked for the fiscal committee. We used to work on both sides of the fence. See, one of the reasons I developed the credibility I did was because I worked for Republicans, I worked for Democrats; but I didn’t work for them politically, I worked for them— You know, people used to say, “Ask Mark, if you want the answer. Don’t ask him if you don’t want the answer.” In other words, if you’ve got something you want to do anyway, he’s not going to justify it, alright? He’s going to give you a pretty straightforward answer. I always told my children— One of my children went into government. I said, “This is something that’s going to face you and you’ve got to be willing to walk out the door.” I mean, it’s a cruel world, but you have to make up your own mind how you’re going to deal with it. And I just decided early on, I knew what it was [like] to be poor, I had been poor, so I’ll be poor again. What are you going to do to me, kill me? I mean, so my sense was, I’ll give it to you straight. If you don’t like it, don’t do it, that’s all. I mean, that’s how I approached that set of issues.

 

FIRMIN:  So what happened when you met with Earl?

 

LAWTON:  So I met with Earl and I said, [laughs] “Earl, do you know— Tell me about this thing.” And I could tell that Earl was embarrassed. It had gotten out of control. And he didn’t know what to make of it. And he really needed help. But I will tell you something, his political people were not helping him. I said, “Well, what was the idea?” He said, “Well, Mark, you know what the idea was. We were just going to put on a pageant that would be a tourist attraction and we would dress people up in costumes and baptize the first white child, and that was going to be the story, you know. But we don’t have the capability to do anything.” I said, “Well, Earl, what are the things—” One thing I always ask a politician is, what are the things you don’t want to have happen here? Alright? I know you want to do good and you want to do things that are right, but what is it you don’t want to have happen? As I said, I had known Earl long enough. I had known some of his staff. But his staff had changed over time and had gotten more ambitious as it went along, I guess. So I said, “Okay, Earl, we’re going to try to come back with a plan. But I’ve got to make sure that Nelson is clued into it. And we’ll keep you apprised. But,” I said, “I really don’t want to talk to any of the staff, because I don’t want to argue with them about shit. I don’t need that. I need to find out what’s rational about this and how we can do something with it, if we can. If not, we’re going to have to find a way to mothball it or do something that is not too controversial.” Well, like one of the things I wanted to do, one of the options, as you know, was I was going to give it to the university. But at that point—

 

FIRMIN:  If they would take it.

 

LAWTON:  They couldn’t take it. [laughs] I mean, you know, it’s too far away. There were a lot of problems. And they had other problems. They had to grow. I mean, the university had to do things. It was trying to decide whether it wanted to— It hadn’t done the Kenmore campus yet. And it had to decide what was important. You know, they have important priorities, too. If they have to put on a public spectacle, this is going to be a multi— It’ll drain a lot of resources. And they’re not ready for it. They don’t have the infrastructure for it. I understood that. I don’t know whether Parks was— Nobody was ready for what we had there. So I went back to Sam and I said, “Sam, we really need help. We don’t have the capability to work our way through this. And we need to bring the arts community into it.” The arts community was Eric Larrabee and the Council on the Arts. I said, “At a minimum, we have to talk to Shorty Knox. We have to start bringing that community— They ought to be the ones to sort this out for us.” Well, Eric was smart enough— I don’t know whether he was from the Buffalo area. But he said, “I’ll lend you someone, but I ain’t taking it on.” He says, “I don’t want to take this thing on, but I’ll lend you someone.” So that’s how we got Lerman. Omar Lerman was—  Omar the tent maker, I called him. He said, “If there’s anybody that can work his way through something, it’ll be Omar. I don’t know whether you can afford it, but” he said, “He’ll give you the ideas.” So we had Omar sort of ready. I said to Sam, “We’ve got to get a local person, somebody local.” You have to understand at that point, we were in a sort of sub-cultural war with the regions, because we were doing certain things that were taking away their prerogatives. That’s always a difficult thing. Administratively, what happens is that they will subvert anything you try to do in their area. I mean, it happens in all government. Not just governmental operations, but any human operation. It’s a human condition. This is my area; I control it, I do it. So the net result of it is we were in a little minor kafuffle with the Niagara region. And as we worked our way through this, they were not going to help us. They had their own ideas as to what they were going to do with it, I guess. Or not do with it. They were going to do a Saratoga— This thing we’ve got here, Saratoga’s Performing Art Center, that’s what they were going to do. Something that Nelson did not want to do. So we basically said, “Okay, we’re going to have to find a way to set this thing up so that it is separate and apart from the normal operations of government.” I was quite aware of the creation of public benefit corporations, because I had handled public benefit corporations when I was in the assembly. So I said, “Well, what we ought to do is we have to create an entity.” And I said, “What we also have to do—” Sam finally— I reconnected with Linda. Linda agreed to do something to join the group.

 

FIRMIN:  This is Linda Adams?

 

LAWTON:  Linda Adams. Linda, Omar and myself sort of went away.

 

FIRMIN:  And Linda was the local connection?

 

LAWTON:  What?

 

FIRMIN:  Linda Adams was sort of the local connection?

 

LAWTON:  She was the local, yeah. When Sam told me that she came from Lewiston, I said, “She’s in. That’s fine.” I also knew that culturally, it was going to shock the hell out of people that we had a woman onsite in charge. Believe me, that would be a major, major breakthrough in government administration, because they had never had a woman in charge of anything in Niagara Falls. I mean, really in charge. So she became the engineer in charge of everything on the site, once we separated the site from Niagara Falls park system and put it into this new entity we had created.

 

FIRMIN:  So how did— Because you mentioned that it had to be approved by Nelson, and you had a couple of options for him. So what was that process like, trying to figure out what to do?

 

LAWTON:  Well, what we did is we— I don’t know. I think if you got the three of us together and said, who decided on Artpark, I don’t know whether any of us could tell you. But collectively, we could tell you, we decided on Artpark. There are a lot of crazy ideas we had. We had a terrific weekend and following conversations, talking about, you know, what do you do? What I brought to it was an idea of— At that time, our most visited place upstate was Niagara Falls. And we had millions of people. Niagara Falls is not very far from Lewiston. I said, “Well, Parks is in the business of serving lots of people. I mean, our business is not putting an elite theater somewhere, where only people who understand the arts will go.” So I was very much in the whole business of serving the populace, a populist sort of idea. I will take full responsibility for that. But what Omar basically brought to it was that it would have to be all the arts. It should go beyond the theater, alright? Which stretched my mind a little bit because I said, “Have you looked at the site? Have you looked at what it is and looked at the area you’re in?” I mean, this is an industrial area, blue collar. You know, this is a tough area. This is very rough. I mean, I’m not saying— I said, “But if you do that, you’re going to have to somehow find out how can you introduce the arts to this area, because it’s not an area that’s going to accept it.” You know, it’s not like Saratoga Springs or New York City. I mean, there’s an audience there.  You’re going to build an audience, is what you’re going to do, if you’re going to bring in the top, the best of the arts, alright? You can bring in what the community knows and you’ll have no problem, okay? Or you can build it up from that. So we had to decide, how are you going to do it? Omar won because he knew Nelson well enough and he knew Nelson’s tendencies. Nelson wouldn’t go for a craftsman-type thing, okay? He wanted to see high arts. But he did not want to repeat SPAC [Saratoga Performing Arts Center], okay? There wasn’t, at the time—I don’t know about now—but there was not a capability in the community to raise much money. The Buffalo Symphony hadn’t met their fundraising goals in years; nor had the United Fund. Fundraising would be rather limited.  The communities did not have very many corporate leaders. There were not any major corporate headquarters— I think it’s still true to this day.  You know, it just didn’t have the kind of leadership that you need to support major art events, so we’re going to have to find a way to overcome that obstacle.

So when we were developing our options, we said, “Okay, we can do something that brings the arts into a park setting.” And that’s how we developed the art park idea. We could bring park patrons into an arts’ setting. If we present it right and introduce it to the public right, we can grow the audience for all the arts. We can grow the audience, okay? We can grow people’s awareness of the arts. I don’t know whether it was Linda or Omar, but we did a number of what you might call polls, looking at the level of cultural indices in the area, which unfortunately was sub-zero. I mean, bowling was the big thing in the Niagara Frontier. And I’m not denigrating bowling; I’m just saying that that’s the level of exposure for the average family. — That’s fine, that’s alright. There were some people who were over in Buffalo who desperately wanted to see more.  But even Buffalo was having trouble at the time to support the symphony. And then there was a dance group, The Niagara Ballet. The hottest cultural offering was over in Canada. And that was the Shakespeare theater.

 

FIRMIN:  The Shaw Festival?

 

LAWTON:  Yeah, the Shaw Festival. That’s great. But okay, what are we going to do here? And we considered a series of options, everything from mothballing to gifting.  We had to present them to Gov. Rockefeller at his office on 55th Street in Manhattan.

 

FIRMIN:  What was the meeting like?

 

LAWTON:  You know, it was actually very congenial. I think part of it was he was always excited about the arts. And he was always comfortable with them. And he was anxious to do something meaningful with them. I mean, he wanted to see some new, different approaches to presenting the arts. I mean, the arts really— I think for Nelson, outside of politics, the arts  were probably his life. It genuinely was— I don’t know where the hell he got his love of the arts, but he really got into the presentation. I mean, it wasn’t strained, it wasn’t— He had known me as a budget person. So he pointed to me to say, “What is it going to cost? Is this going to be very costly? I told him we were in an area when you’re really trying to open up a whole new market.” I said, “You know, the university isn’t built up yet. We don’t have the intellectual infrastructure to build on.  I was trying to tell him that this is going to take a couple of years and a couple of million bucks. And I think I put a number of seven-million for capital costs and between one and two million for operational costs on it.  I remember we had him sign a price tag — I don’t know who has it. I think Linda had it, had the tag he signed, which— when we were finished with the meeting he decided he wanted to do the Artpark option. One of the options, we said, was you could just make it part of the Kenmore SUNY campus and give it to the university, and let the university slowly absorb it and use it and bring it along. It’s a perfectly good facility for training people in theater arts.   In fact, it’s more than adequate for that. The other option was to simply mothball it. We actually said, “If you mothball it, since it’s in the midst of Power Authority land in the immediate area” (I’m talking about within fifty feet of the building), and the Power Authority has ideas for it.” They wanted to sell it for development, and they were going to put a major mall in there, alright? And while we were there, we said, “If you’re going to go for Art Park, we need the park. We don’t have the land. We only have the building, okay? And we have the roadway that goes into Lewiston.” So I said, “You’ve got to find a way to get this land given to this entity, the park system, from the Power Authority.” I thought that would be a formidable problem. Nelson picked the phone up, called Fitz—Fitzgerald was the chairman of the Power Authority—and said, “Hello, Fitz. You having a good day? Everything going well?” He said, “You know that land you’ve got in Niagara” I don’t know, it was something like a hundred-something acres. “That hundred-something acres you’ve got on the escarpment near Lewiston?” “Yeah, yeah.” “I want you to transfer that to Parks. It’s going to be part of a new park. “What?” [laughs] He says, “Yeah, that’s the way I want it done. Let me know when you get it done, okay?” And he hangs up. It’s done. [laughs] That’s it. Well, you know, okay. We now have the park. We now have the theater. He just felt that the university— I think he knew Meyers, your first president, very well. And I don’t know whether he had talked to him about it, but I think he felt that it would be too much of a burden, with all of the other issues and problems, which he ended up being quite right about. I mean, if you were going to do a major expansion of Buffalo University, you have a formidable set of problems and you don’t want this building to become a major distraction. Now, one of the things you have to also realize is that the building— When we took pictures of the building and showed it to the governor, he thought it was the ugliest building he had ever seen. He looked at it and he said, “My God! It looks like a factory!” [laughs] I said, “Well—” And you know, not a very beautiful one, at that, because they didn’t have any landscaping. It was just like the spoil pile and this big monster. It was an ugly scene. He said, “Is there anything we can do about it?” We said, “No, there’s not. You’re going to have to overcome it with activity. You’re going to have to overcome it with programming and stuff.” The building is the building. You know, it’s ugly as hell. There’s nothing much you can do with it. You can’t bury it.

 

FIRMIN:  [inaudible; they laugh]

 

LAWTON:  But he was shocked when he saw the building. Showing him the pictures of the building was good for two reasons. He understood the magnitude of the problem, because this was, at the time, bigger and more sophisticated than any theater in North America, okay? Somehow, this community committee had taken it on, from Earl’s staff. And I think the reason Earl was embarrassed about it was that no one knew how to run it. At the time, they had computerized systems. I mean, the theory was you could program a whole set of theatrics in there, all automatic. You didn’t need but very few people to press buttons and to do things to make sure that the sets,  lights and sound and everything moved. But nobody knew how to work it.

 

MARK LYON: That’s why that stage house was so big.

 

LAWTON:  Hm?

 

LYON:  That’s why that stage house was so big.

 

LAWTON:  Yeah. Yeah. Well, it was just impossible. And there wasn’t anybody who knew anything about it—including the stagehands, the unions and anybody. The nearest people who knew anything about it were in London, because it had been a system developed by the British, okay? So the theater was a big, ugly monster. But inside, incredibly sophisticated, but really undeveloped. That is, it didn’t have the capacity to function, because we didn’t have the knowledge, or the people with the knowledge, to make it function, okay?

 

FIRMIN:  So when Rockefeller decided this was a go, how did you organize the structure? What became the organizational structure to fund it and—

 

LAWTON:  Well, we decided on a public benefit corporation.

 

FIRMIN:  What does that mean?

 

LAWTON:  A public benefit corporation is organized under the education law. It’s not a for- profit corporation. It is set up with a specific mission and public purpose, alright? And you write the purpose out and you can form it with any three citizens and incorporate it under the education law. You could do it and I can do it. Actually, anybody can do it, if you can get the charter approved by the education department. And the idea of that was to make it independent of the park system, per se, but to provide flexibility.  Now, we made sure that the oversight of it was in the commissioner’s office. That’s part of what his job was, was to be the— eventually, to be the guy day to day onsite, or whatever was needed to make sure that things didn’t go haywire, because they could go haywire fairly easy. I mean, you don’t want something that’s totally sort of floating on its own, without any accountability. So in that sense, it was different, unique— We didn’t go for legislation. And there’s a reason we didn’t go for legislation. At the time, we thought— We always thought of Artpark as an experiment. We never thought of it as a permanent park. So the idea of the public benefit corporation was that it could be extinguished as we moved the concept out to the park system at-large. The idea was that if we could get the theater and the grounds to a viable operation of some sort, where the community would embrace it, where you would be able to run it economically, where it wouldn’t be too much of an economic burden on either the community or the state, you could then slowly phase out the state role. Now the idea of the arts in the park, I have to give Omar most of the credit for that. Again, my contribution was to say, “Yeah, the parks are about people and they’re here.  We can bring the audience to you, but you have to be able to deal with it. You have to be able to encourage the public experience and reaction.” And I don’t know whether very many arts groups or arts organizations were equipped to do that. Now, once you separate it from the bureaucracy so that it could operate independently, you don’t have to worry about bureaucratic controls. Not that you can avoid accountability where it’s necessary or useful. We used competitive bidding where it was useful. But there are things you can’t do in a theater or arts program through government systems. I had learned enough about that in SPAC to know that if you want to put a lighting system in or you want to get the latest art designer, you don’t want to go through the contract process like you have to go through in a bureaucracy, because you can pass by your season and endanger the program every time you have to do something creative or unusual. So I wanted flexibility and difference to be normal. And it can’t be done  in government. It just can’t. Government is not about trying to create things that are exuberant, new, different, and that are constantly changing. Government is about settling things down and equitably distributing whatever you’ve got to distribute—whatever service. And governments that do that should do it well. But I think it’s always a mistake to have government systems supervise the arts. The problem with government in the arts is the deadening effect.  Look at the museums in New York City. How do they operate? And that’s part of what stayed in my mind. The city owns the buildings. It even owns the land. But has nothing at all to say about the operations or the organization of the arts. The organizations are non-profit, public benefit organizations. Alright? The Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Natural History are public benefit corporations, which operate without benefit of political oversight. All the city has to do is maintain the grounds, okay? So, similarly in Artpark. We didn’t want— In fact, it turned out we didn’t even want Parks to be involved in the maintenance because we had strained relations with the Niagara Frontier groups. We knew that all of this was going to break down eventually.

You have to understand another thing. My belief in the arts and government is that the trust between the arts and politics breaks down. It can’t be sustained, because you have very different requirements of accountability by politicians and by government. They’re very different and they’re very incompatible. — To do it effectively, you have to have a way of separating the centers of accountability out. None of them are illegitimate, but trying to mesh them together makes it impossible to sustain over a period of time.  So that’s the reason for creating a special entity. My experience with the arts had been such that every time government became the operator or the motivator, it died. It either became dull and uninteresting or wasteful. Or became impossible to do. I mean, I depended on— maybe it was incomplete knowledge, but it was the only knowledge I had, about how New York City had coped with it, how Europe had coped with it. How do you cope with government/politics and the arts? I mean, everybody was trying to struggle with that in some way. I went out to Minnesota, because I thought Minnesota was the most progressive in this area, and I went out there to see how some of their operations were and how they were able to separate and provide the realm of freedom that the arts need.  The real problem is, it’s not that the arts are unaccountable; it’s that the arts’ accountability is extraordinarily different than any other accountability we deal with. And that’s the reason why you end up with people misunderstanding the arts and putting it into the category of pornography or putting it into the category of wasteful or not understandable. Well, I understand that; but that’s not the criteria that you should use to evaluate, or that you should bring to the arts. And you shouldn’t put artists in the midst of that and expect them to thrive; or government to sustain support given our political accountability.  However I got to sense that that was the reason I felt Artpark had to be an experiment. — Frankly, I was shocked that it lasted ten years. As Mark Lyon knows, I never expected it to last much beyond the original people who had supported it, Senator Brydges and Governor Rockefeller, although I expected that there would be an overflow effect regarding other parks-- local, state or federal, in which art would be a part of the park experience. Alright?

 

FIRMIN:  Can you talk a little bit about the first year, 1974, and Dale McConathy?

 

LAWTON:  Ah, yeah. Okay. [laughs] Okay. Dale was a find. I mean, really, genuinely a find.

 

FIRMIN:  And Dale was the first director.

 

LAWTON:  Yes, he was the first director. Dale was in many ways, a genius, okay? But like a lot of geniuses who are incredibly focused and incredibly capable in their special genius area—sort of like savants or whatever—he lacked a practical side. I think that’s saying it charitably. I didn’t pay attention to this until I heard from Senator Brydges. I used to meet with Brydges rather regularly. And one time when I met with him, he said, “This fella you got out there as the director, you’ve got to tell him to put some clothes on.” [laughs] I said, “What are you telling me? What about it?” He says, “Well, he can keep the art inside. You know, the theater and all that stuff. But don’t bring it out to the neighbors.” He says, “I’m getting some real pressure about these scandalous parties and dances he’s having outside,” blah-blah. I said, “Okay. I don’t know how much I can control his personal behavior or his exuberance, but I’ll try to get that message to him and see whether we can sort of keep it within bounds.” Dale was not a theater man; he understood the selection of top grade artists and who was at the knife’s edge in the arts field, in the arts business. That’s where his genius was. However, he didn’t know how to operate a theater. He was unwilling to make a timely decision on what kind of tickets we should print for the first event, okay? And that was because the ticket is an art object to him, alright? So enough is enough. At a certain point, I said, “It may be, but I don’t give a shit if it’s a goddamned rodeo ticket. I’ve got to give something to people to get into the building, alright? You need some control.” And those kind of simple things, they were administrative. He obviously was not an administrator. He obviously didn’t understand— he had no concept of the theater and how it worked. He was not a theater person. And then I started to realize. I said, “Oh, my God. We’ve got an arts director for selecting arts and setting up the art program, but we don’t have anybody that knows anything about the theater.” And I started to cope with that. And that’s when I ended up with—

 

LYON:  Dave Midland.

 

LAWTON:  Yeah. I went down to BAM, the Brooklyn Museum. I knew about the Brooklyn Museum. He had just left and he was basically working for some Jersey performing arts place. And I went down and hounded him. And he thought there were still Indians up in Niagara Falls. I said, “There might be, but they’re pretty tame at this point. I wouldn’t worry about it.” But he was not comfortable getting outside of the New York City area at the time. So it took a while to convince him into a year’s contract. But he was a theater person — He knew how to run theaters. He knew what theaters were about. I mean, the thing I loved about him is he said, “Mark, remember something. This is all make believe. The theater is illusion. And we make believe and we present. And,” he said, “Just remember that, because you can’t— I mean, you ought to get a rich experience out of it, but you can’t take it as a reality.” So I kind of like that approach and philosophy. When he came up and saw the theater, he was a little bit taken aback. He said, “It’s far beyond anything—” I mean, he says, “You don’t have this on Broadway,” you know? I then ran into some union issues and some other problems. Of course, you can’t have a theater anywhere without the unions being involved, I guess. But the unions didn’t have anybody [laughs] who knew anything about it. So I had to figure out, how do I set this thing up and get it running for the opening, without the benefit of— I mean, they didn’t have anybody who knew anything about it. The nearest people who knew anything about it were in London, and some of them were in Canada. Nobody in Broadway knew anything about it, so we couldn’t recruit from New York easy enough. I was willing to work with the unions, if they could provide me with people who could do something; but I didn’t want to end up with a bunch of people jerking around, pretending.  I needed people who were competent and capable of running the thing. And we were able to put together enough.  To my knowledge, we were never able to get all of the computers sort of functioning and working. But we didn’t need to, so it was alright. We could do less sophisticated stuff in a less sophisticated way, and our guy knew how to do that. It didn’t please many people. I mean, I got into a major kafuffle with the Buffalo Symphony, as you know, because they wanted to make it, like SPAC, the home of. And I said, “No, you’re not going to have— You’re invited to come, and we will use all your live musicians on call. But we’re not going to have a season. We’re not going to contract with the Buffalo Symphony to provide a season in Artpark, because we can’t afford it. It’s not viable. We don’t have an audience, we don’t have— You don’t have an audience in Buffalo, so how the hell am I going to do it in Lewiston? Out of tourists and park people? Give me a break.” You know, so that got— Luckily, again, Nelson and Sam, they protected—and Earl—protected us politically, so I didn’t have to worry too much about people coming down on us. Because you know, unions are powerful. Unions have a lot of say in stuff. And Buffalo Symphony has a lot of people with a lot of money. I mean, they don’t have enough money to support the theater— or the symphony, but they have enough money to get the attention of politicians. But fortunately, Earl protected us on that end. And I didn’t confront— I presented them with issues that they couldn’t resolve, but I never confronted them or told them, buzz off. I was willing to engage with them as long as it took to engage with them; but we never resolved anything, because they didn’t have much to offer. So you know, it’s—

 

LYON:  But we did use them.

 

LAWTON:  Yeah. Of course, we used them. Whenever it was appropriate, we would use— I mean, I ran into this with patronage. You’re going to run into patronage all the time. And I sat down with Earl and I said, “Everybody here who’s a politician is going to become a thespian.” Now, Earl happened to be very good at vocabulary. I said, “A lot of people think thespians are queers. That’s not what thespians are. Thespians are well trained people in the arts that have to do with theater okay? They go through lots of rigorous—” And Earl said, “Yeah, I understand that.” I said, “Okay, I’m going to have a problem. I’ve got to have people who know how to run things there, professionally. I don’t need people to sit around because they’re union people, alright? I’ll give you all the patronage for the non-professional people you can vouch for.  You want the ticket takers and you want the other? You can have them. But you’ve got to leave the professionals to me. I’ve got to be able to hire the best I can get. And I have to make sure they have competence. Alright? So you have to protect me when it comes to that, because there are going to be people that are going to come at you, they’re going to say, ‘Oh, my cousin Charlie is a terrific lighting specialist.’ And he probably hasn’t done anything but put a lamp on. He doesn’t know the first thing from a lighting grid or how to integrate a lighting grid into a program.” I mean, you know, you want a gallery, you know you have to have people who know what they’re doing. Either that or you can be a teaching entity.  Now, if you want to be a teaching gallery, fine. That’s great. But that’s not what we were. We were a presenting operation.

 

FIRMIN:  So how did you work out the budget throughout the time? Because you mentioned it was very expensive.

 

LAWTON:  My first budget was just my guess. I mean, the first budget we got Nelson to sign off on, on 55th Street— I mean, not that I didn’t have any idea. I always made an assumption, when you get into something like this, I knew what a program was.— I took the SPAC program, I took the program that   they used to run at Jones Beach. I took those programs as sort of an idea of what it cost to run an arts program. . And then I added in— I mean, you can make reasonable projections. And that’s what I tried to do. But I honestly can tell you that I could not have justified— You can’t justify any arts organization until you have operational experience you know, you know what’s going on and what you can do and not do, and how you can do it maybe better. Maybe better. Better, in the arts, means sometimes it costs you more. I mean, that’s the business. I mean, you don’t want to be in the business, don’t be in the business. That’s fine. But the first one that Nelson signed off on— By the way, when he signed off on it, I was kidding him at the time. I said, “Nelson, it’s very nice that you signed this. Can we cash it?” He said, “I’ll do better than that.” And he called for his budget director, who happened to be there.  And he had his budget director come in and he said, “I want to make sure that this is in the budget for this amount.” Okay? And that solidified it. Now, Norm Hurd was his budget director. The thing about Nelson is that you’d present him with an issue and a problem, and he’d resolve it right there and then nail it down. I mean, his call to Fitzgerald to get the land, it was done like— I’ve never seen anything done like that— It helped me later on, when I had to set up— For Governor Carey, I had to set up the Empire Games, and it helped me because I was able to use Governor Carey as the vehicle to get certain things. You can get these things done if— bureaucracies do have to respond. But they normally are not responsive; they’re normally meant to dampen down things. Max Weber told us what bureaucracies are about. Whether they’re public or private, it doesn’t matter; they are about damping down enthusiasm and spreading out the pain or the gain. That’s what they’re about. They’re not necessarily about trying to get something done. If you want to do that, you’ve got to do it differently, not through a bureaucracy.

 

FIRMIN:  So what about the next— the following years?

 

LAWTON:  Well, the very first year— [chuckles] I would say the very first year was rocky. We probably spent more money than we had to, because we were literally learning and setting things up. Setups cost you money. The selection of Hardy, Holzman and Pfeiffer was a very important thing.

 

FIRMIN:  These were the architecture firms?

 

LAWTON:  Yeah. The architectural firm— We needed a crazy firm. We could not use a standard firm, because we didn’t have the resources. — Even though I had set the budget, there were a couple of things we had to do, that it became obvious were going to be expensive. I mean, mundane things like parking. How do you provide parking on this damn place? I was able to rearrange the entrance into Artpark so that it went through Lewiston—which ended up being what people wanted. So I was able to eliminate the direct connection from the parkway, which saved me a couple million bucks. So I was able to turn that money back into other things that I needed to do. So we had to be rather flexible. Now, we ticked off a lot of people in the process; not the least of which was the Niagara Falls Park Administration, because they didn’t like the idea of losing a piece of parkway. They also lost control, because if it has to go through Lewiston, then Lewiston, the town now has some control over your entrance and what you can do. I also started to integrate the Native American stuff. The original plan for the parkway entrance had gone right through the Indian burial grounds. So I partitioned that off and, in effect, gave it to the Indians.

 

FIRMIN:  What was the relationship like with the Native American community?

 

LAWTON:  Initially? I was very fortunate. Do you know of Duffy Wilson?

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah.

 

LAWTON:  Okay.

 

FIRMIN:  Linda Adams has talked about—

 

LAWTON:  Duffy Wilson ran a soup kitchen, and he was a Tuscarora Indian and he was an artist. He was also somewhat of a social worker for off-reservation Indians. I don’t know exactly what his on-reservation connections were, although I always got the feeling that they were stormy. But that’s alright; that’s normal in Indian, Native American activities, because there are always Christian elements, and then there’s a traditional element, and they conflict all the time. Duffy became a jewel for me. He became a very important part of our connection with the Native American community. But I knew enough to know that there was a lot of bias and prejudice against the Native Americans in the Niagara Frontier, not the least of which had evidenced itself with fishing rights and other issues that had to do with the river, riverfront, the Tuscarora Reservation, blah-blah-blah. I asked Duffy to help us re-dedicate the burial grounds. We should not have anything to do with the Indian ceremony, except to permit it, to allow it, and to protect it as it happened. The Indians did re-dedicate the burial and it was set aside. And Duffy ended up putting an Indian village up there, too. And they had a powwow for a few years.

 

LAWTON:  What was it, second year?

 

LYON:  Second year.

 

LAWTON:  I don’t think— there wasn’t time to do it the first year. The first year, you’ve got to understand one thing we did. In the winter of ’73, as we were getting the facilities sorted out, we met with all of the art teachers in the local school districts, in the communities. We knew we had to develop an audience, so we wanted to find out, first of all, what they would want to have and see and do in Artpark, what kinds of things, or what they would expect. And at the same time, we wanted to bring them in as supporters of Artpark. You have to remember, Artpark started estranged from the community. So we had to find a way to connect with local communities. As far as the communities were concerned we were an alien group. So we had to find a way to bring together Artpark and community activity. So that winter before opening, we went to the high schools, and brought together the arts classes.  We had engaged them and presented what we intended to do.   I guess you would call it a dialogue and conversation – a prelude to marketing Artpark people. 

 

LYON:  Focus group?

 

LAWTON:  Focus groups. Because we wanted to find out what the community’s expectation were. — What we found out was there was a lot of hostility. And most of the hostility was aimed at—fortunately—aimed at the park administration, the people over at the  Niagara Park Frontier office, as they had not adequately informed the community. I say fortunate, because we were able to separate ourselves from them and say, “Well, we’re not them. We’re the Natural Heritage Trust. We’re trying to do Artpark as an art thing,” blah-blah-blah. “And we need you to— you know, we need some idea of what your needs are.” And the teachers, by and large, were helpful; they had a font of knowledge and expertise.

 

FIRMIN:  So what were the responses?

 

LAWTON:  Well, some of their responses were to tell us that we had a hell of a job in front of us, because most of their students had— It was hard enough to get them past the primary colors. To get them into serious artwork was challenging.  — You know, they had no Public Radio there and little in the way of cultural activities. They basically felt that most of the art in that area was seen as coming out of Buffalo. And they didn’t feel that their students or their communities were at a level that would easily accept avant-garde art.   We told them we were inviting world class artists and arts groups. They were willing to work with us to try to do what they could to help. And a consequence of that knowledge, we put some of the venues outside of Artpark the first year. I don’t know whether that shows up in any of the reports we made. But actually, on Main Street and in some of the schools and some other areas in the community, we put art installations out there to introduce the community to what kind of art to expect.

 

FIRMIN:  And what was their response?

 

LAWTON:  The response of what? The first year, second year, or third year?

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah, first year. [they laugh]

 

LAWTON:  Well, what we started was something that, apparently, was not continued, I guess. We did something called penetration analysis. We wanted to know how many people who had not been exposed to the arts before the season, had experienced something, whether it was performing or any other artistic act, as a result of our programming. — And we found we were gaining. That is, there was a benefit. Each season more people were exposed to art for the first time. I used that as my measure of our effectiveness. Now, artists will use the measure of whether we’re doing “high enough” art. And I left that up to the art critics and all those folks. And that was a mixed reaction, I think. There was some hostility in the press, but most of it was, I think, because they thought that the arts—I’ll be very frank with you—they thought the arts were a waste of money, public money. And they didn’t see any relevance of it for their community.  And this is sort of like, you know, something you’re putting on us. What the hell are you doing to us? You know. So that was the nature of some of the complaints in the press. Not that that rolled off my back, but I kind of expected that Artpark would get some of that kind of reaction.

 

FIRMIN:  So to go back to the funding issue, how did funding continue year after year?

 

LAWTON:  In my opinion, the funding was not going to continue year after year. [chuckles]

 

FIRMIN:  The second year?

 

LAWTON:  Indefinitely. No, no, I’ve always— As I said, I go back to Artpark as an experiment. It was meant to be an experiment. And I would’ve been shocked and surprised if it had become a permanent entity. — We did everything we could to make it self-sustaining, as well as we could. But I just knew, I knew. I had worked in the legislature. I knew what those attitudes were, I know what those— Why the hell should Lewiston, of all places, have all this largess thrown its way from taxpayers, when my community down in Cornell has something? Or Rochester has less. Or whatever. It didn’t matter where it was or what it was. But the arts are a very heavy lift,  a very difficult thing to mix into politics I mean, my feeling was that— I’ve always felt that once Earl died, once Nelson moved on, we could hold on for a couple more years; not really indefinitely. The thing that did please me was that when the first real reductions were attempted, the community reacted and prevented it. Jimmy Biggane of the Senate Finance staff tried to snuff the thing out. I was no longer with Parks, but Jimmy got a hold of me because I happened to be over in budget at that point. And he said, “I think I finally am going to kill this cat.” [laughs] And I said, “Jimmy, if you can get away with it, you know, it’s going to be interesting.” And before you knew it Jimmy was overruled. Jimmy was an old park guy, he was a [Robert] Moses guy. Jimmy didn’t dislike the arts – he just thought they didn’t belong in parks.  And you know, I understand. I know that attitude.  But it turned out that he couldn’t eliminate Artpark because it had become a pork item, a special thing that the whole delegation, Democrat or Republican, in the Niagara Falls area, supported.

 

LAWTON:  Doesn’t matter whether you’re Republican or Democrat; it’s yours, so you’re going to support it. —What pleased me about it was that the community had embraced it somehow. So the community had decided they wanted it. They wanted to hold onto it. I didn’t think that would last long, and no longer than State support of SPAC has lasted. SPAC doesn’t get State aid for its operations unless it has somebody like Joe Bruno, who was the President Pro Tem of the Senate, and who got it occasional grants for special activities.

 

FIRMIN:  So how long were you involved in Artpark? For how many years?

 

LAWTON:  You can remember that better than I can, right?

 

LYON:  When did you go to budget?

 

LAWTON:  I went to budget during the fiscal crisis.

 

LYON:  So it was like [inaudible]—

 

LAWTON: Orin Lehman became the commissioner, I agreed to stay with Lehman for a year or two, because he needed to get oriented and needed to become familiar with Park’s statewide operations. —

 

LYON:  That was your two-year stint?

 

LAWTON:  They didn’t want to see him waylaid, new commissioners frequently get waylaid. So the governor’s office asked me to stay and I agreed.

 

LYON:  [inaudible] till ’75?

 

LAWTON:  Hm? So whatever year.

 

LYON:  Yeah.

 

LAWTON:  If you take Orin Lehman’s appointment, I was there for another year or so. And then the fiscal crisis [was] becoming too big, and I had to go over to help. — That’s why I went over to budget.

 

FIRMIN:  As Deputy Commissioner of parks, you had— I mean, Artpark, obviously, wasn’t your only park that you had, and heritage sites, that you had under your responsibility.

 

LAWTON:  That’s right.

 

FIRMIN:  Can you talk about it in relationship to the other parks?

 

LAWTON:  Well, Artpark wasn’t the only project we had. I was also responsible for eight regional park commissions and numerous historic sites.  We had to renegotiate the SPAC arrangement. So I did renegotiate the SPAC contract around the same time. We also got involved in the South Street Seaport in NYC. I also had to resolve the Jones Beach Theater project as well, which is also changing. And then we generally— I don’t know. I got involved in Shakespeare in the Park also in NYC. We provided grants. Shakespeare in the Park, as long as Bob Moses was around, never happened, okay? We funneled some grants and worked with them to set it up so that when Moses went, [laughs] we were able to get Shakespeare in the Park going, working with Joe Papp. We worked with him to develop the backbone of the Shakespeare theater. We had to integrate the Historic Sites into Parks.  It was a clash of cultures between preservation and parks—all the time I was there, we never had Historic Preservation in our name. And that was largely political. They would not do it as long as Jimmy was in charge of Senate Finance. He would never allow it to happen.  We also planned and initiated the Canal Parks statewide.

 

FIRMIN:  Jimmy?

 

LAWTON:  Jimmy Biggane.

 

FIRMIN:  Oh, Jimmy Biggane.

 

LAWTON:  He was chief of staff for the President Pro Tem of the Senate. And it happened that I knew Anderson well enough that I cold talk to him about this thing. I didn’t want him to overrule Jimmy; that wouldn’t be good for him.

 

FIRMIN:  Anderson?

 

LAWTON:  Warren Anderson was President Pro Tem of the Senate. He was Earl Brydges replacement.

 

FIRMIN:  Okay.

 

LAWTON:  Senator Anderson. He was from Binghamton. And there are a lot of pressures that you have to be aware of when you’re in this business.  You’ve got to be aware of what’s possible and what’s not. Things you can do and things you can’t do, you know? We’re going to have lunch now.

 

FIRMIN:  So maybe I should turn off the recorder?

 

LAWTON:  If you please. [inaudible]. [END]