The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY)
SPAC officials discuss COVID-19 impact on amphitheater
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. » At the start of a season with no live events, Saratoga Performing Arts Center is asking for continued community support during this challenging time in the nonprofit venue’s 53-year history.
At SPAC’s 2020 Annual Meeting, held virtually on Thursday afternoon, President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol shared with attendees what it will take for the organization to continue its longstanding tradition of presenting world-class performance art in the future.
For 2020, SPAC’s pivoted plan includes virtual programming, and maybe more. Events such as the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, the Festival of Young Artists and Beethoven 2020 all previously scheduled to take place at SPAC - will now be presented in an online format.
Beyond screen-based performances, Sobol hinted at the possibility of some in-person events.
“Though the amphitheater is currently projected to remain dark all summer, this does not mean that the SPAC campus will remain empty and silent,” she said. “The one timely and valuable resource SPAC has plenty of is outdoor space.
“We have an amazing operations team who have been tirelessly working on COVID protocols and procedures – and an amazing and creative program
ming team who have been re-imagining SPAC on an intimate scale.
“We have a myriad of plans in place and are ready to walk through whatever doors may be open to us this summer to provide art, inspiration, and support for our community.”
Regarding 2021, no one knows for sure, Sobol said. “And the notion of a complete return to ‘normalcy’ is most likely an elusive if not misguided notion. But we are hopeful - and with dates already on the calendar for Jazz Fest, New York City Ballet, Philadelphia Orchestra and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center - we are focused on a full return next year.”
However, the level of support SPAC receives now will be critical to that return, Sobol continued.
“The fact is that due to the necessities of cancellations because of COVID-19, in 2020 virtually all of our earned income - or 50 percent of our budget - will simply go away, with no chance of replenishment until sometime later in 2021,” she explained.
SPAC’s Chief Financial Officer Jay Lafond provided further insight on the organization’s finances in Thursday’s meeting. After reporting that the venue’s total operating income for 2019 was $10.4 million, Lafond shared some details about this year’s situation.
“Our original 2020 budget reflected $5.4 million in revenues from ticket sales, rentals of the theater, concessions, and fundraising events. That figure is now projected to be less than $200,000,” he said. “The loss of that revenue, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential corporate sponsorship funding opportunities lost with our season because of the virus, is a crippling blow to our finances.”
SPAC is currently projecting a shortfall of as much as $1.3 million, Lafond said.
“The difference between a financially disastrous year, and one that allows SPAC to continue successfully into the future, rests with our members,” he continued.
Sobol echoed this sentiment. “Even though the stage is dark, SPAC needs your critical support now more than ever to continue its work and to ensure that the amphitheater lights go back on brightly in 2021,” she said.
In a poetic metaphor, Sobol said, “A gardener knows that if a plant does not flower one year, the answer is not to let it die. To the contrary, you tend it, you care for it, you refortify it so that, next summer, it returns - even stronger and more beautiful.”
Sobol concluded her remarks by reminding viewers why art is important at a time such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Art is not entertainment. Art is not a beautiful pastime. Art is a profound and essential expression of the human soul,” she said. “Allowing us to see the world through other eyes, through other lenses - taking us out of our own narrow individual slivers of human experience and into the large expansiveness of humanity - across continents, across cultures, across time. Beauty, both man-made and natural, opens our hearts and reminds us of our deep connection, our mutual responsibility, to each other and to the natural world that sustains us.
“SPAC is so much more than just a presenter of programming on an amphitheater stage.
“We are educators, we are conveners of community, we are stewards of our place in this beautiful park, we are creators and purveyors of possibility and of experiences that encourage and allow the human spirit to flourish - more needed now than ever.
“We have been a continuous part of the history, the psyche, and the DNA of this extraordinary city since our miraculous opening in 1966. Located here at the perfect confluence of man-made and natural beauty, SPAC is a refuge. SPAC is a beacon. SPAC is a beating heart that must never be allowed to stop.”