Saratoga Performing Arts Center is set to expand with the launch of SPAC School of the Arts at the National Museum of Dance/Lewis A. Swyer Studios in September.
“It’s an idea that’s been percolating for a long time,” Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of SPAC said Wednesday.
Over the last few years, SPAC’s education program has gone from serving 5,000 to 49,000 students throughout the Capital Region, offering in-school dance programs and arts programs on SPAC’s campus. Opening a school has been a dream of SPAC’s, and after nearly a year of discussions with leadership at the National Museum of Dance, it’s set to become a reality.
The museum has been closed since the pandemic began in the Capital Region and a skeleton crew remains on staff. According to Sobol, SPAC is in the process of taking over operations of the facility, working with both the museum and New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the latter of which owns the buildings.
“We actually are in the process of operating the whole facility, but in order for SPAC to operate the museum and the studios, there does have to be a whole legal process that we have to go through and we are in the middle of that,” Sobol said. “Meanwhile, we have an understanding both with the Dance Museum and Parks that we would go ahead and launch this school in the Swyer Studios to start revitalizing and getting kids back in there and bringing it alive again. This is one good, important first step in that direction.”
SPAC is working with museum staff and the state Parks Department to eventually reopen the Museum of Dance to the public.
At this point, SPAC’s main focus is on the school, which will operate out of the Lewis A. Swyer Studios, just behind the museum. The school will focus on theater, dance and music, though there are plans to expand into visual and literary arts among other mediums.
The classes aren’t meant to create a pipeline to professional theater or dance organizations, but rather to expose students to different art forms and cultures that they may not have seen or heard about before.
“We’re really looking at providing as much access to arts education programming of all forms that currently are not available to students in our area,” said Dennis Moench, SPAC’s senior director of education and the school director.
They plan to work with students of all ages, from elementary-aged students to adults.
“We’re already developing classes for adults and older adults and working with students of all abilities as well within all those age categories. So we want to provide as much access as we can to as many people as we can,” Moench said.
During the first year, the focus will be on school-aged children.
“What we thought the community could really use was more programming that focuses on providing more access to children. When I talk about access I’m not just talking about getting them into the classroom but also creating content that they relate to,” Moench said.
When he goes into local school districts to lead SPAC’s “Classical Kids” music and dance program, he often finds that at the start, some students think they aren’t interested in dance at all.
“What is so gratifying for us is that every time we offer that program those students experience a complete 180 change in their perspective of what dance is. By the end of the program, they are dancing their hearts out on the stage in front of their friends and family,” Moench said.
He hopes the school can provide a similar experience for other students.
One program they’re hoping to offer is the Arts Discovery Program, which introduces children to multiple art forms within one course.
“It takes the pressure off of parents and guardians to decide for their children where to guide their students as far as arts learning goes,” Moench said. “It allows the students to try everything and decide for themselves.”
The SPAC School of the Arts also has a tuition assistance fund so families can apply to receive free or reduced tuition. Registration begins on Aug. 18. Funding from Stewart’s Shops and the Dake Family helped to launch the school and additional funding from the Charles R. Wood Foundation will go toward tuition assistance, supplies, instruments and transportation.
Opening the school, especially after a challenging year, is a euphoric moment for SPAC, according to Sobol.
“It’s hopefully creating audiences for the future,” Sobol said. “But it also serves the community because let’s face it, when you’re listening to music with other people, when you are dancing with other people, when you’re in a theater production with other people, when you’re engaging in the arts you are experiencing what brings people together rather than what separates and polarizes us. If anything, that is the most important thing here. That art can truly transform the divisions and some of the painful polarization that is going on and we really believe that art is an antidote to that. So what better way than to give kids an experience of that early in their lives?”
For more information visit spacschool.org.