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SPAC In Solid Financial Position Despite Challenging Year

Saratoga Performing Arts Center during the COVID-19 pandemic is almost completely empty.
Jackie Orchard
Saratoga Performing Arts Center during the COVID-19 pandemic is almost completely empty.

Despite a summer season upended by the coronavirus pandemic, Saratoga Performing Arts Center is in a solid financial position for 2021 – even if the organization’s top brass is unsure what next year will look like. 
In 2020, the SPAC amphitheater was not filled with fans – no residencies by the Philadelphia Orchestra, New York City Ballet, or the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. And there were no thunderous concerts by LiveNation including annual favorites like the Dave Matthews Band or Zac Brown Band.
So the longtime arts organization pivoted to its “SPAC Reimagined” platform – producing over 50 hours of online content.

Elizabeth Sobol is SPAC’s President and CEO. She spoke Thursday at SPAC’s annual board meeting.
“You know, there’s all sorts of things in the background. Like, you think, ‘Let’s go out and shoot some great content.’ But there’s all sorts of implications about what sorts of platforms to use, how to get the word out…there’s so many complicated factors around digital content that we basically had to…we were working without a map. And what we were able to do is nothing short of extraordinary,” said Sobol. 

SPAC’s summer resident companies produced unique performances on the grounds in Saratoga Springs.
Regular events were transformed, including the annual Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Fest. In a partnership with Caffè Lena, the Jazz Fest went online and drew 15,000 viewers over three days. SPAC also took to the radio with its premier of Testament – a play that puts the listener inside Beethoven’s head.

Ellen Reid’s SOUNDWALK brought a unique self-guided musical tour to Saratoga Spa State Park, and youth and educational programming also took place in a virtual space.

But Sobol says it still remains difficult to budget and plan for a 2021 season with live performances. 
“What we are looking at is a variety of scenarios that involve the amphitheater at some degree of capacity, but also preparing for the possibility that the amphitheater may not be in use.”

After the pandemic took hold, SPAC was expecting to lose a lot of money. The cancellation of the classical season alone in 2020 was projected to mean a $6 million loss. SPAC had projected a shortfall of over a million dollars.

But with an outpouring of financial support, SPAC Chief Financial Officer Jay Lanford said the organization will meet its fiscal goal.

“Because of the incredible generosity of the board, our members, and the community-at-large, we are going to achieve our goal that we set for ourselves every year of breaking even,” said Lanford. “So we’re extraordinarily happy to be able to present that.”

And looking ahead, Sobol says fans can expect a strong return in the new year.

“I think it’s fair to say today that not only will SPAC have a 2021 season one way or another, we also have some presence by our companies one way or another and that’s miraculous.”

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