It’s been 19 years since Saratoga Arts moved into the old library building on Broadway in Saratoga Springs.
And for the past 16 years, thousands of people have enjoyed theater, music, movies, lectures and other programs in the arts center’s Dee Sarno Theater. The Saratoga Film Forum screens independent and foreign films in the room, the Local Actors Guild of Saratoga presents its plays.
The theater is due for a face-lift, and its generic, stackable chairs are at the top of the list, says Joel Reed, executive director of the 700-member, nonprofit community arts organization.
“The chairs are worn out, they are wobbly,” he says.
With a $39,544 grant from the Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust, the theater will soon be getting not only new chairs, but new carpeting, a new stage and new stage lighting.
Besides the theater, the first floor has an art gallery with changing exhibits, and there are classrooms on a lower floor.
Reed has worked at Saratoga Arts since 2003, when he was hired as associate director.
In 2007, after Dee Sarno retired, he became executive director.
Reed grew up in Savannah, Georgia, and went to college in California. He holds a bachelor’s degree in literature from UC Santa Cruz and master’s and doctorate degrees in English from UC Irvine.
For five years, he taught 18th-century British literature at Syracuse University.
Reed is married to Katherine Hauser, an art history professor at Skidmore College, and the couple live on seven acres in Porter Corners, town of Greenfield.
The Gazette talked to Reed about the theater improvements earlier this month:
Q: What will the new seats be like?
A: They are not going to be as comfortable as Bow Tie, but they are going to be much more comfortable seats. They’ll be much more supportive than the seats that are there now. It’s certainly time for something that’s more ergonomic and that looks better in the space. And they will also be on a riser system so it will improve sight lines, too.
Q: Have you gotten complaints about the current seats?
A: Yeah. They don’t work for everybody. They find them uncomfortable. And if you are sitting toward the back of the room, it can be hard to see the stage.
Q: There are 111 chairs now. Will that change?
A: We may lose about 10 seats.
Q: When will the new seats be installed?
A: I hoped to have them in the spring but at this point I think it will be in the early fall. I’m also doing research on a new stage lighting system.
Q: How will this affect Saratoga Film Forum?
A: I think it’s going to be a benefit to everybody. The place will look a lot better. During that period of installation, they might have to adjust their schedule.
Q: On your website, it says the theater is used 236 days a year.
A: Some of those days are rehearsals, some of those days are public screenings or performances but it’s a really active place. I think that’s the way we fill our role as a community arts center. It’s important to have a space of this size downtown. Once it’s updated and upgraded, it will be even more valuable.
Q: How have the mission or offerings of the arts center evolved over the years?
A: We’re pretty much staying true to mission. At the heart of what we do is making the arts accessible. Our classes and education programs are about letting people explore their own talents. About 300 of our members are artists. Over the year, we give about 700 artists opportunities to show their work.
Q: Is First Night your biggest event?
A: It is, definitely. We are offering entertainment to thousands and thousands of people in one six-hour period. We didn’t start it, it’s been through a couple of hands. The Y did a super job with it for a long time.
Q: What’s coming up this spring and summer?
A: It’s a big season for all of our programs. We’re about to announce this year’s grant recipients. On April 8, we’ll have a ceremony here to award $84,000 for arts programming in Fulton, Montgomery and Saratoga counties. Our education program, this has been its biggest year ever. Winter is always a big season for the program. And summer is always big with the children’s programs. The demand for those has just grown . . . Art in the Park, the two juried fine arts shows in Congress Park, one in July, one in September. And we always have exhibits in the gallery.
Q: Is Saratoga Arts doing something for the city’s centennial?
A: We’re going to have a 10-by-10 show in the gallery in August and September. We’re inviting people to bring in 100 square inches of art. It’s an open call. It won’t be juried. We will jury it once the work is here, and we’ll have kind of a special wall for work that’s juried. But really it’s going to be a wide-open community show. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Q: What’s fun about your job?
A: The best part is that through my job I get connected with so many people in the community, especially artists. I do really appreciate just being part of the everyday downtown conversation and one of the participants in downtown Saratoga Springs, the great place that it is. Any day that I can have conversations with artists is a great day. It just charges me up.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge?
A: It’s always funding. It’s not an uphill battle for us, unlike a lot of non-profit organizations and a lot of arts organizations. Most of our revenue is earned revenue. Through our education program and the nominal fees that organizations pay to use the space and art sales, we’re really run like a small business. And then we also seek donations and contributions. They play an important part, and I’d like to see that part of our budget grow because we’ve kind of maxed out our ability on earned revenue in terms of the space we have.
Q: What do you like to do when you’re not at Saratoga Arts?
A: I like to listen to and go see live music. That is the art form that I can really get immersed in. I have an affection for more experimental music and avant-garde music of all types, jazz or new classical. I look forward to the Bang on the Can marathon every year at MASS MoCA. I’m often down in Albany or Troy.
Q: In 2009 and 2010, you trekked in the Himalayas and Western Tibet. How did that happen?
A: It was an opportunity that I had that was too good to turn down with a friend who used to teach at Skidmore and now he teaches in Chicago, an expert in Himalayan art.
He’s been going there every year for years and years and years. And he invited me to join him one year.
Q: What was the trek like?
A: It was a great challenge. We hired two horsemen who had pack horses and the horses carried the gear, the tents and the cook stuff, while we walked. It’s high up there. The second year that we were there, I estimated that we walked 200 miles or so and we went over 17 passes, 12 of which were over 17,000 feet.