Donations put SPAC in the black after COVID wiped out 2020 season

ERICA MILLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER The Saratoga Performing Arts Center is shown in Saratoga Springs on May 4.

The Saratoga Performing Arts Center is shown in Saratoga Springs on May 4.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Performing Arts Center ended the abortive 2020 season in the black after initially projecting a $1.3 million loss.

The news was shared at SPAC’s Board of Directors meeting Thursday and was credited to support from members, the community and the board itself, as well as to a hybrid schedule of virtual events and in-person events carefully calculated to limit the number of attendees and maximize the distance between them amid the COVID pandemic.

SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol told the directors via Zoom Thursday that 2021 is impossible to predict at this point. So SPAC is simultaneously making plans for another season with restricted gatherings and plans for a season with at least some larger events in its centerpiece amphitheater.

Regardless of how the pandemic plays out, “It will not be easy for anyone,” Sobol said. “It is very difficult to budget and plan when the goal posts could move so dramatically.”

She said, though, that the resident companies that are such a big part of the SPAC season each year will have a presence of some sort in 2021.

The New York City Ballet, Philadelphia Orchestra and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center each were to have residencies at SPAC in 2020. Cancellation of SPAC’s classical season cost the venue $6 million in earned income, or 60 percent of its budget for the year.

The threat posed by these numbers was significant but was averted.

“Thanks to our generous SPAC family of contributors, we kept the flame burning,” Sobol said. She noted that less than 1 percent of members let their memberships lapse, thus preventing another potential source of red ink.

SPAC was just one of many venues that suffered amid all the restrictions on large events and the reluctance of many people to attend them amid a public health crisis.

If the decision to cancel the season was like walking off a cliff, as Sobol compared it, the season itself was like learning to walk with a broken leg after that fall off the cliff.

SPAC immediately pivoted away from mass performances to small online and in-person events. Programming included 50 hours of music, dance and theatrical productions online as well as more than 200 events that bought more than 8,000 people on-site — never more than 50 at a time — for everything from tai chi to drumming to classic films.

There was also a food program — [email protected] — that combined education about local and sustainable foods with dining in the park

And more than 15,000 students, families and educators gained free access to arts educational content through the SPAC Learning Library.

For all these reasons, 2020 has been named SPAC Reimagined.

While fallback plans are in place, just in case, the hope is that the theme of 2021 will be SPAC Reawakening.

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