On the eve of its first concert of the season, leaders at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center looked back on a challenging year in which, perhaps surprisingly, it grew. It added new facilities and ended the year with a surplus of more than $400,000.
“On Monday, May 18 of 2020, SPAC did the unthinkable,” said President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol during an annual meeting on Thursday. “In the middle of glorious high spring weather, after 53 continuous years of presenting on our beloved and legendary stage, we canceled an entire season and left the doors to the amphitheater locked — a profound and solemn acknowledgment during some of the darkest, early days of the pandemic. And yet, here we are. After what now seems an eternity, the amphitheater is open, the lawn is thick and green, and our first concert takes place tomorrow night.”
Treasurer of the board Linda Toohey reported that the operating income for SPAC in 2020 was $4.37 million and the expenses were $3.95 million.
“When we were forced to cancel an entire season of programming and $5.4 million in ticket revenue, theater rentals, concessions and fundraising events were lost due to the pandemic, you provided a bridge to carry us forward to where we are today. Looking forward to a season of recovery and promise,” Toohey said.
This summer, SPAC’s resident companies, including the New York City Ballet, The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, will return in some fashion.
“The challenges have been enormous, from reduced capacities to increased costs for COVID compliance, from ever-changing COVID protocols to the fact that the companies themselves have been wrestling with their own realities over the last year,” Sobol said. “Each residency will look somewhat different this year but far from looking at those differences as something less or something lost we are excited.”
The Chamber Music Society has returned and will perform concerts through Aug. 29 at Pitney Meadows Community Farm. The NYCB and the Philadelphia Orchestra are slated to return to the amphitheater July 14-17 and Aug. 11-14, respectively.
Performers and audience members alike will return to a changed SPAC campus.
A $9.5 million project, completed last year and called [email protected], opens up original sight lines from Route 50 to the Victoria Pool. It also expanded the restrooms and concessions areas and includes a few new spaces: The Julie Bonacio Family Pavilion, The Pines Terrace and the Nancy Di Cresce Education Room at The Pines.
The latter is the first of its kind for SPAC, providing a year-round space for education and community outreach, which it plans to do more of. Later this season, it will bring local children together with the NYCB for several workshops. SPAC will also partner with the National Dance Institute and Double H Ranch in Lake Luzerne to bring virtual dance workshops to campers with life-threatening illnesses. Beyond that, Summer Nights at SPAC, which serves Schenectady families, will return with four movie nights on the lawn and live performances by local musicians.
“The years leading up to 2020 saw SPAC deepening its commitment to education, diversification of programming and service to the community. It was the devastating effects of the year 2020 which strengthened our resolve to redouble our efforts,” Sobol said. “So today, I am excited to share with you that we will shortly be announcing the launch of a SPAC school of the arts to begin later in 2021. The school’s mission will rest on two primary pillars: a multi-disciplinary curriculum of theater, music, dance, creative writing, visual and media arts, guided by our commitment to inclusion, diversity, equity and access.”
More facilities improvements are in the works for the campus.
“Additionally, over the coming months, SPAC will be accelerating its plans to renovate Roosevelt II, the 1935 bath house in the park, transforming it into a year-round arts venue with an intimate black box theater space that will be home to the performing and literary arts, a gallery space that will welcome the visual arts and a teaching kitchen, which will be the home of culinary arts at SPAC and much more,” Sobol said.
Four new board members were also introduced during the meeting, including L. Oliver Robinson, the superintendent of schools for the Shenendehowa Central School District, Chris Mackey, managing member and majority owner of Saratoga Ford and Saratoga Subaru, Sean Leonard, the chief investment officer and partner with Graypoint LLC and Carl DeBrule, the vice president of Global Applications Development Engineering Processes and Testing at the Johnson and Johnson Corporation.