This Fall, ACE is spotlighting the significant financial hardships facing Creative Economy businesses in the Capital Region though our #CapNYRedAlert campaign. Locally, we are asking creative economy leaders about Covid’s impact and how they plan to move forward. Elizabeth Sobol, President and CEO of Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), offered her perpective.
Elizabeth, when did SPAC start to feel the effects of the lockdown?
As an overview –SPAC has a $10 million dollar annual budget. Half of that revenue is earned income, like the Live Nation concert season, other rentals, our own ticket sales. The other half is contributed income, which comes from memberships, and individual and corporate giving.
So, back in March, the most immediate impact we felt was that our May and June graduation rentals went away.
Then, Mazzone Hospitality — a subtenant at the Hall of Springs – saw their events and weddings dry up quickly.
We began to understand that most of our own programs like the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York City Ballet would not be happening, and then came the question of Live Nation concerts. And, like everyone else, they canceled their season.
Basically, $5 million dollars of earned income evaporated.
And then 80 percent of our million of corporate donations also went away.
So all in all, we’ve lost $6 million of our $10 million budget in 2020.
How is SPAC weathering that jolt?
The good news is that the community has really supported us in 2020.
The majority of people left their memberships with us this summer, even though they weren’t getting the usual perks of tickets and parking and things. We are deeply grateful for that.
Many of our corporate sponsors also gave what they could. Many said that they couldn’t spend the same amount, but gave what they could to keep some money in the coffers. Quite a number of long term corporate sponsors stuck with us. Quite a few could not.
Basically, we will be okay through 2020 because of the philanthropic spirit of our members, donors, board members.
The big question, now, is 2021.
So how do you plan for 2021?
Right now we still don’t know what the spring and summer will hold, and that makes it very hard to figure out how to budget.
If we have to implement social distancing, our amphitheater capacity goes from 5200 seats to 1250. How would Live Nation concerts make that work? And in our field, the demographic tends to be older, and they are the most vulnerable age group to Covid. Even if we have social distancing in the amphitheater, how many of our patrons will actually come back and buy tickets?
Many performing arts groups have already canceled their spring seasons, and we’re trying to dream up ways to bring our resident companies up here in some other crazy fashion, if the amphitheater isn’t available.
Will orchestras be able to put 80 musicians on the stage? Can they have a chorus?
There are just more questions than answers at this point.
Can you tell us about some of the programming SPAC did in 2020, and what might happen in 2021?
This summer, we really turned our focus to ways we can thank our members, and finding ways to allow people to have experiences and gather together safely.
For example, we opened the grounds up to wellness practioners. They registered people for their classes, met on the SPAC grounds, and all of the proceeds remained with the teachers.
We are doing the same for our Chef’s Tables events. Our new pavilion is equipped with temporary walls and heat sources, which keeps things safe and warm, and all the money that comes in will go to the chefs. We’re hoping this can continue to go through the fall and even into winter.
Elizabeth’s silver linings
The pandemic forced us to think deeply about our mission and the spirit of what we do. We created a ton of great new digital and live content and programming, which is something that arts organizations all knew we needed to do, but never quite got around to before.
The pandemic has taught us to be imaginative and flexible, and that will put us in good stead going forward, no matter what happens.