SARATOGA SPRINGS — Although the Capital Region has entered Phase 4 of reopening its economy, the road to reopening remains a tentative one for some Saratoga Springs arts institutions.
“We have seen our governor relook and shift protocols to address this fast-changing moment and there’s great evidence that this unsteady time will continue for some months, maybe longer,” said Ian Berry of the Tang Teaching Museum. “So it’s worth saying that our plans today may not be the same tomorrow or next week.”
Berry, along with leaders like Elizabeth Sobol of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Teddy Foster of the Universal Preservation Hall and Cate Johnson of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame came together earlier this week via Zoom to discuss how the pandemic has reshaped their organizations and what reopening might look like.
Phase 4 of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan, which the Capital Region entered into on Wednesday, includes low-risk indoor and outdoor arts entertainment and media production. However, that doesn’t mean all arts venues have plans to open right away.
“In my quick survey of arts organizations in Saratoga, we range from some planning to open this week on July 6 to some looking to projected dates to reopen in spring of 2021,” Berry said. “All of us though have one thing in common: We will not be opening as the same institutions we were four months ago.”
Nationally, the arts industry, like many, has been feeling the financial impact of COVID-19, with most concerts and events being canceled or postponed. According to a study conducted by Americans for the Arts, 66 percent of arts organizations reported that they expect the pandemic to have a severe impact on the organization.
In Saratoga Springs, SPAC has projected a $1.3 million budget deficit due to canceled concerts and other events. UPH, which is under the Proctors umbrella, has had to furlough the majority of its staff members.
For UPH especially, the timing of the mid-March shutdown, which came just 10 days after the venue opened after major renovations, was a difficult pill to swallow.
“I have to say it was really quite a blow,” Foster said. “We had worked for so many years to get the building restored and up and running. So I will say that it took a couple of weeks for me to catch my breath.”
While the venue won’t hold concerts until 2021, Foster announced that UPH will open later this month for an exhibition called “Part of the Machine.” It will feature memorabilia and pinball machines owned by famous rock and roll bands like The Who and The Beatles and will be open from July 26 to the end of September.
“We’re able to do it because we can regulate the number of people that come in at a time,” Foster said.
Twenty people will be allowed to view the exhibition at a time, in 90-minute increments. Attendees will have to reserve their time slots, wear masks and have their temperature taken upon arrival. While it’s not exactly how Foster imagined UPH’s opening season, she’s excited to be able to open the building to the public in some capacity.
At SPAC, a major concession renovation was recently completed, including a new pavilion space, bathrooms and an indoor-outdoor education space. Instead of thousands exploring the new space before concerts, the renovations have been seen only by small groups of people heading to SPAC for wellness programs like Tai Chi or meditation, which started this week.
The wellness programs came about after SPAC had to cancel much of its season. It has since bolstered its online educational programming and looked into other ways to safely have the community use the grounds.
“There’s a lot planned for the summer even though the amphitheater’s projected to be dark the whole summer,” Sobol said. “We have a whole lineup of things that we plan to do at the SPAC grounds.”
While the main stage will remain dark, Sobol said she decided to install the LED screens outside of the amphitheater in the hopes that they will be able to screen digital programming.
“We hope that over the course of the summer we’ll be able to allow in more people, obviously hundreds of people not thousands of people,” Sobol said. “We’re envisioning digital performances by our resident companies on the screens and screening films, gatherings of all sorts and hopefully some live music outdoors. That’s what we’re aiming for and trying to be ready for.”
Currently, SPAC is limiting wellness classes to 25 people per session and is requiring all attendees to wear a mask and social distance.
Nearby museums are adding other safety precautions as well. The National Museum of Racing, which has been closed since January for major renovations, is considering online ticket purchasing and limiting the number of visitors. The Tang Teaching Museum is also looking into limiting the number of people in the building and changing the gallery space. Both institutions hope to open in late August.
While reopening plans are in the works for many of the areas larger arts organizations, it’s clear that these cultural hubs won’t be returning to business as usual.
“A ‘return to normal’ is an elusive if not misguided thought at this point,” Sobol said.