Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s Board of Directors Winter Meeting Recaps a Reimagined 2020

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This Thursday, December 10 at 3pm, the Board of Directors for the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) gathered virtually for its winter board meeting to discuss the current state of the Center and recap the 2020 SPAC Reimagined season.

Like so many cultural institutions around the world, The Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s 2020 was remarkably different than what President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol imagined when the rich and ambitiously programmed season was first announced in January.

“Just over seven months ago, SPAC took the unprecedented measure of cancelling its whole Summer season in the face of the worsening coronavirus pandemic,” said Sobol.  “Taking that step felt literally like walking off a cliff.” 

Photo by Jim Gilbert

As a result of the cancellation of SPAC’s classical season, which was to have included performances by resident companies New York City Ballet, Philadelphia Orchestra and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, SPAC’s earned income dropped by $6M Million, or 60% of its budget.  SPAC had projected a potential shortfall of over $1 Million, “a breathtaking gap that brought our very survival into question,” said Sobol.

At the meeting, Sobol announced that, thanks to the extraordinary generosity from the community, the potential deficit was eliminated and SPAC will end the year in the black.

“Thanks to our incredible community, we were able to do what SPAC does best,” said Sobol. “Provide, even in the midst of a global pandemic, communal gathering around art, artists and community.  Thanks to our generous SPAC family of contributors, we kept the flame burning.”

SPAC Reimagined

Beginning to pivot almost immediately following the shutdown, SPAC began work on SPAC Reimagined, an initiative to bring arts and culture to the community at a time when the community was unable to come to the amphitheater for performances by resident companies. “We are finding that pivoting from an existence on the amphitheater stage, and really focusing our gaze on art, artists and community has allowed us to recalibrate in a very meaningful way,” said Sobol in a WAMC interview this summer.

That recalibration led to over 50 hours of online programming including:

  • Freihofer’s Jazz Fest Stay Home Sessions in partnership with Caffè Lena
  • The SPAC Reimagined series of locally-shot dance videos that paid tribute to the 2020 classical season featuring New York City Ballet, The Philadelphia Orchestra and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center created by videographers and NYCB dancers, Emily Kikta and Peter Walker
  • The world premiere of Testament, a radio play about Beethovenwritten by Damian Lanigan and co-produced with Saratoga Shakespeare Company
  • Exclusive performances by Joshua Bell and Time for Three filmed in Saratoga and at SPAC
  • Ellen Reid SOUNDWALK, aGPS-enabled work of public art in the Saratoga Spa State Parkthat used music to illuminate the natural environment

A Sanctuary for Socially Distant Cultural and Culinary Events

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, SPAC was unable to celebrate the completion and opening of its transformational new construction project, The Pines @ SPAC. Nonetheless, The Pines and its various indoor/outdoor spaces allowed SPAC to open its gates for over 200 events.  Over 8000 attendees came through the doors from July to December, just 50 people at a time, abiding by strict COVID-19 protocols. 

Fall of 2020 brought the launch of CulinaryArts@SPAC showcasing innovative chefs and restaurants in the region with safe, intimate dining events. CulinaryArts@SPAC is a programming initiative offering park-based dining experiences as well as education about food, drink, and sustainability for members of the community. Hosted by SPAC, the collective is made up of local chefs, farmers, butchers, distillers, purveyors, and others from the hospitality industry, who support the notion of sustainability, local procurement, and fair wages. 

Photo by Shawn LaChapelle

Throughout the summer and fall, audiences also attended wellness, art, dance and drumming classes; screenings of classic films, chamber music, orchestral music and dance; meetings and gatherings that could not have happened safely in their usual indoor locations. 

All proceeds from the culinary, wellness, dance, drumming and art classes went back to chefs, farmers, teachers and practitioners.

Education, Programming & Community Outreach: Online Programming to Enrich and Inspire

In May, as schools were shuttered, SPAC also reimagined its signature education programming by providing free original arts educational content to more than 15,000 students, families and educators via the SPAC Learning Library. As part of the Center’s mission to provide meaningful educational programming to the community while also supporting local artists, the Learning Library features lessons and activities from more than 25 professional musicians and dancers such as Ellen Sinopoli Dance CompanySoul Steps and Caroga Arts Collective, as well as former Broadway performers, composers and local storytellers.

SPAC also launched the Adirondack Trust Company Festival of Young Artists’ online gallery in July, in response to the cancellation of the landmark event at SPAC.  The website created a platform for more than 400 students to showcase their creative accomplishments during a time when there were very limited opportunities for students to share their artistic visions and achievements.

SPAC’s Education team, led by Dennis Moench devised a COVID-safe in-school residency being piloted at Charlton Heights Elementary.  A total of 104 students (52 in-person, 52 virtual) are learning Broadway-style choreography this year to “Too Darn Hot” from the musical Kiss Me, Kate for a virtual performance planned for release February 1, 2021. Now that the program at Charlton Heights has proved successful, SPAC hopes to offer this virtual programming this winter and spring to several other schools in the region to keep dance alive in their classrooms. 

SPAC Reawakening in Spring 2021

Given the uncertainties of what 2021 may bring with regard to the pandemic, SPAC is currently planning a number of potential scenarios to present a season that will be ready to meet whatever the prevailing conditions are this Spring and Summer.

“What we know is this,” said Sobol, “one way or another, there will be a SPAC season – and one way or the other, we are committed to ensuring a Saratoga presence by our beloved resident companies.”

New Board Member Martin Mbugua

SPAC’s board also welcomed Martin Mbugua, Skidmore’s Vice President for Communications and Marketing. Mbugua has led Skidmore’s Office of Communications and Marketing since 2017 and has held posts in the communications departments at both Carnegie Mellon and Princeton Universities. 

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