The state’s Authorities Budget Office on Thursday proposed dissolving the authority that operates The Egg, citing its board’s “inability to develop and adopt a coherent plan to address the authority’s financial situation.”
The move wouldn’t eliminate the venue, but instead place the The Egg under the control of the state’s Office of General Services, which is currently responsible for the facility’s maintenance as well as management of the entire Empire State Plaza. The Egg’s 14-member board and Peter Lesser, executive director of The Egg, responded to the proposal through a statement also released Thursday morning. In part, it said “that the recommendation to dissolve the authority may impact the quality and depth of activities at The Egg and reduce opportunities and services currently provided to audiences, artists and presenters across the state of New York.”
Lesser, whose own future isn’t immediately addressed by the ABO report, said he stands behind the board’s response.
“The statement was put together by the board and our staff, and right now I’m going to let that speak,” Lesser said Thursday morning. “It’s a part of their final report, and our response was our initial reaction. The board hasn’t had time to meet yet, so we’re going to do that before we have any more comment.”
While essentially seen as a cost-cutting measure, the ABO report also took some shots at Lesser’s leadership and the board’s efficiency.
“While the Authority has a number of long-standing, dedicated board members, its current management structure is not working,” stated the report. “Its financial position is weak. Its board of directors exercises limited financial oversight and governance due to consistent absenteeism and prolonged delays with filling vacancies.”
The report also said, “We also found the Authority exercises an informal approach to management, resulting in poor controls over certain financial operations and lack of compliance with the Authority’s enabling statute and established policies.”
Director of the ABO, David Kidera, said in a press release Thursday morning, “Why does the state need a public authority to manage The Egg and a separate agency to manage the rest of the Plaza? Consolidating this responsibility makes fiscal and management sense. In the long run, we believe this action will preserve The Egg as the cultural center for the arts in the Capital District and the state.”
Reached at his office later Thursday, Kidera said implementing the report’s recommendation, which requires statutory change by the state Legislature, may not dramatically change the existing hierarchy at The Egg.
“All we’re saying is that there are other management options,” he said. “The staff at The Egg now could become part of OGS. But there has been budget costs and loss of state aid, and with revenues from performances decreasing, The Egg hasn’t made the commensurate reductions in management staff, and that’s what doesn’t make sense.
“This is all in line with what the governor has been talking about all along: streamlining government, reducing overlap and elimination of redundant services,” Kidera said. “The Egg will still function as a performing arts center.”
While Lesser declined to address the particular issues, Egg board member Vincent McArdle of Albany was not hesitant to offer his opinion.
“I think Peter [Lesser] does a wonderful job, and there are some really wonderful dedicated people that always come to the meetings,” said McArdle, an Albany attorney who has served on the all-volunteer board for four years. “Sometimes our people are appointed by senators who don’t live in the area, but for the most part they are hooked up by phone. We have a very dedicated corps of people that are always there, and they’re worth much more than they’re paid.”
While the decision is designed to save taxpayers’ money, members of the arts community were concerned about how the move would affect the quality of entertainment offered at The Egg. Ellen Sinopoli, founder and director of the Ellen Sinopoli Dancers, said her group has been part of The Egg for 22 years, performing there on a regular basis while also taking up some office space.
“Considering all the changes that have been made from a budgetary perspective the last few years, I think Peter has done a great job,” said Sinopoli. “The Egg lets us use some space here, and I’ve worked with two or three other directors, and I think Peter has done a great job under some duress, or maybe uncertainty is a better word. This is a big surprise to me.”
Sandy McKnight, a musician and event organizer who has both performed and presented events at The Egg, said altering the venue’s leadership is unlikely to produce any new artistic improvements.
“You talk about an eclectic mix, Peter covers all the bases,” said McKnight, who operates a nonprofit group called the Columbia Arts Team. “I’ve really been impressed with his bookings the last few years. He seems to have a good sense of what the people in this community want to see.”
Construction of The Egg finished in 1978 and the facility opened in 1979, its official name the Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Performing Arts Center Corporation. The Egg’s mission is to “present quality performances, accessible to all citizens of New York State, highlighting the unique and extraordinary artists from New York State, across the country and around the globe.”