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Cacace honored for dedication to the arts

Christina Hennessy, Stamford Advocate
Published 12:00 pm, Monday, April 26, 2010
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In this June 2002 photo, Michael Cacace, second from left, former chairman of Stamford Center for the Arts, and then-Mayor Dannel Malloy unravel the American flag at the highest point on the steel for the new lobby building at the Palace Theater during a 'Topping Off' ceremony. Site superintendent Fred Mertirano, far left, watches as the flag unfurls. Cacace, who worked on plans for the Palace's renovation, as well as the construction of the Rich Forum and other initiatives instituted by the arts organization, will be honored at a special recognition ceremony and benefit concert for Stamford Center for the Arts April 29.Photo: File Photo

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Today's institutions began as dreams of the past -- visions supported and fostered by ardent supporters.

Michael Cacace, 58, was one such dreamer. Twenty-five years ago, he joined a group of community and business leaders who were working to make the Stamford Center for the Arts a cultural anchor for downtown.

"The vision was to create a performing arts center, a physical structure, that was in the heart of the urban core of Stamford," the Stamford resident said recently, as he recalled those early days on the board.

Cacace may smile now when he sees that a show at the Palace Theatre has sold out or when he hears of a child who has benefited from one of the center's educational programs.

"Arts provides not only a venue and cultural center for the community," Cacace said, "but they also provide a vitality to an urban center that very few other institutions can provide."

The center, which owns the Palace Theatre and the Rich Forum, also provides a space for the community to gather and celebrate the arts.

On Thursday, people from around the area will come to celebrate one of jazz's great innovators, Dave Brubeck, 89, of Wilton. Brubeck, who late last year was honored for his life's work at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, will be awarded the first annual Stamford Center for the Arts Legacy Award.

Brubeck also is expected to perform at this benefit concert with the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

At that same event, Cacace will be recognized with the Stamford Center for the Arts' first Arts Ovation Award for his longstanding commitment to the organization. In all, he served for 23 years on the board, from 1985 to 2008.

"I am delighted to be honored and humbled to be recognized," Cacace said. "I hope in some small way, I contribute to a successful evening."

Money raised at the event will benefit the organization's 2010 Arts Infusion Education Program, which takes place in the summer.

"Michael had vision and leadership and took on hard jobs, not necessarily the most glamorous ones," said Michael Widland, SCA board of directors president and a partner at the law firm Shipman & Goodwin in Stamford. "He was extremely good at finding solutions that were viable in the long run.

"Basically, he was a guiding light to make SCA a living, community-oriented arts organization," Widland said.

Cacace, who is a partner at the Stamford law firm of Cacace Tusch & Santagata, remembered first being tapped by the late Frank Rich, a developer, arts patron and philanthropist, to become a part of the Stamford Center for the Arts board, and then remaining on the panel as he rose from director to vice president. By 2000, Cacace was president, and when Rich, then chairman of the Stamford real estate development firm F.D. Rich Co., died in 2007, Cacace took over for his friend and mentor, assuming the chairmanship for a year.

"Frank and I became very close over the years," Cacace said. They both supported the construction of the Rich Forum, which sits at the corner of Atlantic Street and Tresser Boulevard, where the Stamford Theatre once showed movies. They also worked to ensure that the Palace Theatre on Atlantic Street was renovated and expanded.

Cacace left the board in 2008. It was the same year the center declared bankruptcy, blamed partly on dwindling state funding. The center has since emerged, having had its reorganization plan approved last year.

Cacace said he is pleased to see that it has emerged stronger.

"I love the organization," he said.

In the end, he said the center had to reinvent itself.

"Quite frankly, we are at an age where young people have a host of entertainment options, more than in the past," Cacace said. "It is critical to keep them interested in, involved in and excited in the performing arts."

For more information, visit www.scalive.org or call 203-325-4466.

Staff writer Christina Hennessy can be reached at Christina.hennessy@scni.com or 203-964-2241.