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Without Live Events, Albany’s Palace Theatre Hanging On Through Devastating Year

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When the pandemic struck early this year it crippled the arts economy. Albany’s Palace Theatre went into a near total shutdown. The venue is hanging on for dear life.

Before COVID-19 the Palace annually hosted more than 180 events with more than 200,000 patrons. Now, with live performances of music, plays and dance put on hold indefinitely, with the exception of some virtual programming and community outreach efforts, the stage has been empty, the theatre mostly dark.

Starlyn D’Angelo is Director of Philanthropy and Strategic Initiatives at the nonprofit Palace Performing Arts Center, which owns and operates the historic downtown theater.

"We never really entirely stopped serving the community, we just shifted gears. So we partnered with other nonprofits to do things like distribute food under the Palace marquee. And we've been doing our virtual concerts, the Palace Sessions every month in partnership with the City of Albany. So we've been pretty active, even though we can't have live shows up on this stage, we obviously can't sell the 2800 seats in the theater. So we're planning to continue with those types of efforts as long as we can."

One current project involves refurbishing computers to give to kids who are having difficulty accessing remote learning.

D'Angelo adds the pandemic highlighted the venue's weaknesses and gave insight into ways and places to foster growth.

Sean Allen is Director of Marketing for the Palace:

"Since the theatre closed in March, we sort of had to pivot quite a bit because we can't have events anymore. So we said to ourselves, how can we continue to be a community resource. Obviously, some of the things that we would normally do like our free summer programs in our free educational programs, and our block party, we just can't have those anymore because of all the safety protocols in place. So the theater sat down and said, you know, how can we still be a part of the community? How can we still offer something while our doors are closed? And that's how some of these programs have come together, like the Palace Sessions, and our partnership with the Regional Food Bank, specifically, the Food Pantries for the Capital District."

The Palace Sessions is a monthly live music series featuring regional acts performing in unique spaces within the historic performing arts center.

Allen says the food pantry distributed goods into the fall. The Palace is also involved in distributing free school backpacks and school supplies to local students.

D’Angelo points out that keeping the historic building up and running is a significant cost, and there is an online fundraising effort that asks patrons to share their fondest memories of the theatre. To date 200 people have contributed just over $12,000 toward a $150,000 goal.

"Maintaining that giant building is incredibly expensive. The Palace Theatre itself encompasses almost one square acre of property. So if you can imagine just heating the building, maintaining the building, just the bare bones of what we do is quite costly. So not having any revenue right now is very difficult. But on the other hand, every single donation, every fond remembrance of this year, all of that, helps us move forward."

Allen says arts institutions nationwide, even worldwide, are doing their best to ensure the arts survives into 2021 and beyond.

"I think it's very important that people you know, if they if they love, things like the Palace Theatre, and in the same way, you know, that your supporters love WAMC, if you love these things, support them now, when they need your help the most and, and reach out to your, you know, reach out to your congressman, reach out to your senators, reach out to your local politicians and say, you know, 'we really want to make sure that the arts are supported during this' so that when things get to get back to normal, this will still be a viable medium and this will still be something out there that you can come and enjoy."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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