Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
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Thursday, 09 July 2020 13:02

Looking For A Little Civility

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Campfire s’moreo. Bourbon truffle maker. Baked placid cheesecake, and mango dragon fruit sherbet.  There are more than 60 different flavors available at Stewart’s Shops, including those four which are part of the summertime limited edition kind. This summer, the company thought it a most appropriate time to re-introduce a limited-edition flavor that first premiered two years ago. It’s called: Civility. 

“Just plain old kindness,” “getting along with people,” “putting out a positive energy to everybody you come across,” sound the endorsements in the company’s 80-second video clip re-introducing the ice cream flavor. 

“It initially launched in 2018, a time when things were similar to how they are today - a country divided,” Stewart’s Shops spokeswoman Erica Komoroske said this week. “Right now, we’re having a big issue with masks. People are really divided on the mask issue. COVID-19 has put people on edge and we see a lot of hostility, customers yelling at each other in our shops about wearing a mask.  What better time to bring back ‘civility,’” she says. 

By definition the practice of extending basic politeness and respect to all citizens of society; by flavor, a vanilla based ice cream with a salty caramel swirl thought up by owner Bill Dake and created at the company manufacturing plant in Greenfield. “It’s a non-nut flavor,” she says.  “We’ve had dozens and dozens of requests from customers to bring Civility back.” 

Stewart’s Shops are deemed essential businesses and as such have remained open for the duration of the COVID period. It counts approximately two dozen shops within 10 miles of Saratoga Springs, 55 shops in Saratoga County and approximately 5,000 employees and 337 stores in New York and Southern Vermont. 

On July 1, the company posted a lengthy statement on its web site detailing its priority to protect the health and safety of customers and employees, its adherence to CDC recommended guidelines and the protocols it was taking: the installation of plexiglass barriers at cash registers, offering hand sanitizer for customer use, regularly sanitizing high-touch areas, and posting signage to enforce customer social distancing, among them. 

All shop employees - across New York and Vermont - are required to wear face coverings. Store signage informs that customers over the age of 2 medically able to do so are also required to cover their face with a mask or cloth face covering. However, it the customers’ responsibility to comply with the mask order. 

“A mask is required, but we can’t put our partners in a position to enforce it,” Komoroske says. We’re trying to offer gentle reminders to customers – ‘hey, did you forget your mask today?’ There have been physical altercations in our parking lot. There have been customers chased with a tire iron. This mask issue has definitely divided people.” 

The problem, she says, is the wearing of masks is not mandated by law. “If Ag & Markets came out with a law that said masks are mandatory, we would have better backing to enforce it as well,” she says. 

“It’s not a law, it’s an executive order,” says Robin Dalton, public safety commissioner in Saratoga Springs. “There is no enforcement that is available to us as a local municipality to do anything other than remind and strongly encourage people to wear their masks. We are completely hamstrung. Our police department very much wants to follow the rule of law, but they are not going to write a ticket for something they know is not a law and not enforceable,” Dalton says. 

“Personally – I think every single person should be wearing a mask when they step outside. If they aren’t around people, they should have it dangling on their wrist, like I do, so the second they see someone coming into their space, throw it on, or cross the street,” she explains. “There are a lot of people stuck at home, who are terrified to go downtown and terrified to go outside  because other people are not willing to show them the common courtesy and respect of putting on a face mask. I think it has to do with safety, and with respect. We are such a philanthropic and giving community, but when it comes to this one particular issue, for some reason which I will never understand, it’s polarizing.” 

A survey initiated by Saratoga-based tourism agencies conducted in June in which just over 3,200 participated, listed “masks worn by employees” as the top safety precautions businesses and their employees can take that will motivate respondents to visit their businesses. The results of the survey, publicly released July 8, also listed “a lack of trust in venues enforcing proper safety guidelines” as the main reason nearly 1,000 of the respondents are deterred from visiting Saratoga County. 

The survey partnered Mind Genomics the Saratoga County Chamber, Discover Saratoga, the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership and other agencies and was designed to glean information about what will motivate respondents to visit Saratoga County in the next six months.

Absent stronger language from the state regarding  mandatory mask-wearing of customers, Stewart’s Shops is test-marketing different ideas. 

“We’re rolling out a test right now offering complimentary masks in one of our district of 17 shops in Valatie, and we’re trying to learn: are people going to respond? will they take the mask? how will they respond if a partner offers them a mask?” Komoroske says. “if that test goes well, we’ll roll that out company-wide.” 

SARATOGA SPRINGS –  Playable pinball machines celebrating Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle, paying tribute to the Rolling Stones, Kiss, Guns N’ Roses and others, and the acoustic guitar upon which The Who’s Pete Townshend composed “Pinball Wizard” will go on exhibit at Universal Preservation Hall this month.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame exhibit “Part of the Machine: Rock & Pinball” opens Sunday, July 26 for a two-month run at UPH, located at 25 Washington St. in Saratoga Springs.   

The interactive exhibit showcases rock-themed, playable pinball machines and combines them with merchandise and artifacts to explore the artistic portrayal of artists and bands. 

UPH, a partner in the Proctors Collaborative, will sell tickets for 90-minute blocks throughout the run. Tickets will be available for admittance at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. each day and hours will be extended to include 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. admittance on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The event concludes on Saturday, Sept. 26. 

Part of the Machine: Rock & Pinball is presented at UPH by Adirondack Trust Company. 

Pinball and rock became inextricably linked, with the Who and the group’s opus ’Tommy,’ which highlighted the skills of the rock opera’s lead character. Pinball was banned until the mid-1970s in most of America’s big cities because it was considered a form of gambling.

On display, along with the classic “Wizard” and “Tommy” pinball machines, is Pete Townshend’s acoustic guitar used to compose “Pinball Wizard” and several other Who songs from the album ‘Tommy.’    

Making its debut as part of the exhibit is Alice Cooper’s newest pinball machine – Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle. The classic horror adventure game is narrated by Alice himself and features a number of songs spanning Cooper’s career and a working guillotine set piece. An electric chair stage prop that Cooper used in his 1971 tour across North America and Europe is on display in the exhibit.    

Fans can also view pioneering pinball machines of their favorite musicians such as Captain Fantastic (1976), based on the album by Elton John and his character in Tommy, and Beat Time (1967), one of the oldest rock and roll tables, which capitalizes on Beatlemania, featuring several mop-topped musicians and a drumhead emblazoned with “The Bootles.”    

Other rare and sought-after playable machines in the exhibit pay tribute to the Rolling Stones, Dolly Parton, Guns N’ Roses, Elvis, Metallica, KISS and AC/DC. From Peter Criss of KISS’ drum set to Dolly Parton’s dress that inspired the backglass for the DollyParton pinball machine, fans will find other artifacts on display as they learn more about the popular pinball and rock subculture. 

Hosting the exhibition at UPH has been in the works more than a year as the Saratoga venue sought to develop programming that complimented - rather than competed - with Saratoga’s live entertainment scene in the summer. 

“It wasn’t clear when COVID-19 came along that we could hold the event but now that museums are reopening in the state we are proceeding with our plans,” said Teddy Foster, director at UPH.  

UPH will follow Center for Disease Control and Prevention and New York State safety guidelines in establishing safety protocol for exhibit visitors. Each visitor, staff person and volunteer will be required to bring and wear a face mask and to wear provided gloves while playing the pinball machines. All individuals will also be required to maintain proper social distancing. 

UPH staff will also take and record each individual’s temperature and procure proper tracing information, and sanitize all surfaces including handrails, light switches, elevators, exhibit pieces, restrooms and common surfaces before new groups are admitted. Capacity will be initially limited to 20 guests per time slot and will be re-evaluated regularly. 

Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students and are available now at universalpreservationhall.org.    

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A panel discussion featuring local leaders involved in the arts was showcased during a Zoom meeting June 30. 

The discussion was moderated by Ian Berry, Dayton Director of the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College. Berry noted that these are strange times, yet stressed he remains optimistic. “This has prompted us to be better neighbors, to reach out, to share our vulnerabilities,” Berry said. At the museum, staff have worked remotely for the past several months and while the museum building remains closed, a variety of online offerings have been made public. 

The Tang Museum usually welcomes 40,000 visitors per year – about half of those during the summer season. The museum building is being readied for visitors with safety protocols being put in place, and a fall exhibition is being prepared that will feature 100 women artists in a celebration of a women’s right to vote, Berry said. 

Universal Preservation Hall - and the 19th century building it inhabits - underwent a massive multi-million-dollar renovation and staged its grand opening Feb. 27. Sadly, it was forced to cancel all shows less than two weeks later.

“I’m thrilled we were open – it was only 10 days – but a spectacular 10 days it was,” said UPH Director Teddy Foster. The NY Pause “was quite a blow. We worked many years to get the building up and running,” says Foster, adding that no large-scale music shows are anticipated til at least January 2021. An exhibition of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame pinball machines is slated to open in late July. Ticket information regarding the event is coming soon, and the exhibit is anticipated to be on display through the summer. UPH will institute a limited entry of up to 20 at a time for up to 90 minutes, as well as other protocols, such as face coverings, gloves and the taking of visitors’ temperatures. 

Cate Johnson, of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, said the museum hopes to unveil its newly remodeled and renovated Hall of Fame by late summer, and SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol reported the first of limited-attendance outdoor health and wellness activities gets underway this month. 

The SPAC amphitheater is projected to be dark for the duration of the summer, but other plans are being coordinated for use of the large outdoor space. A $ 9.5 million renovation project of the concession area/ year-round venue has just been completed and will soon be unveiled as well. The annual jazz festival at SPAC – which this year was remodeled as a virtual affair for three nights featuring three local artists and three national artists, garnered 10,000 views during the weekend, Sobol said. For more information regarding the summer plans at SPAC, please see the interview with Sobol, published in last week’s (June 26-July 2) edition of Saratoga TODAY. 

“This is one of our most challenging times in the city’s history. From art classes to museums, from dance recitals to concerts, no cultural institution has gone untouched," city Mayor Meg Kelly said. The economic impact of COVID on the arts and subsequently the community is large. The economic impact of just SPAC alone to the region is $100 million, Sobol said. 

The forum was sponsored by the Saratoga Springs Arts Commission in partnership with Skidmore College. Part 2 of a State of the Arts panel discussion will be held 4 p.m. on July 14. For details, go to: Saratoga-Springs.org.

Thursday, 02 July 2020 13:02

Travel Advisory Expanded

SARATOGA SPRINGS — This week, eight states were added to the original list of eight that requires residents of those states traveling to New York to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival.   

The quarantine applies to any person arriving from a state with a Covid-19 positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a 7-day rolling average or a state with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average.

The newly added states are: California, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and Tennessee. Additionally, the travel advisory remains in effect for the initial eight states named on June 24. Those are: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North and South Carolina, Utah, Texas. 

“We’re in the middle of a national crisis and we have to be careful. We’ve made tremendous progress, but this is not over,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during his press briefing on July 1. “We’re seeing troubling signs across the country that we should be concerned about,” he said. “Our infection rate is low. How does it go up? People come in from the outside, or when we start to get lack of discipline on the inside.” 

The advisory alerting domestic travelers coming to New York occurs at a time when European nations are instituting a travel ban related to Americans traveling overseas. All members of the European Union - as well as a handful of non-E.U. nations, are slated this week to begin opening their borders to residents of more than one dozen foreign nations – Canada, Australia, and Japan among them – but not to residents of the United States, where the spread of Covid-19 has not been controlled, according to the N.Y. Times.

The rate of infection in the Capital Region remains low, although there were cautionary messages this week from the state about a COVID cluster at a Washington County/Vermont Slate Quarry. 

Washington County Department of Health subsequently announced it is working with the New York State Health Department and the Vermont Department of Health to assess the potential impacts to the community regarding reports of the cluster of COVID-19 cases. 

Cuomo said visitors to New York found to be violating the quarantine can be subject to judicial order and mandatory quarantine, in addition to being assessed fines. Those fines could be $2,000 for a first violation, $5,000 for the second violation, and up to $10,000 “if you cause harm,” the governor said.

Thursday, 02 July 2020 13:01

Phase 4 Underway

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga and the greater Capital Region entered Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan on July 1. 

The industries specifically tagged to reopen in phase four include: professional sports competitions - with no fans, higher education, both indoor and outdoor low-risk arts and entertainment, and media production. 

Regionally, the rate of those testing positive for the COVID-19 virus has remained low and statewide has fallen dramatically compared to where they were earlier this year.

This week, the number of positive test results ranged from 0.7% to 1.5% across the state, with the Capital Region measuring at 1.0% - or 1 of every 100 people who had been tested, testing positive for COVID-19. 

New York State has conducted more diagnostic tests per capita than any nation on earth, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week. 

“New York State is doing great, the numbers are good, the numbers are solid,” Cuomo said regarding New York’s infection rates, hospitalizations and the number of deaths recently caused by the virus.  “But I feel there are storm clouds on the horizon,” he warned.    

Thirty-five states have seen an increase in infection rates this week. 

“Now they’re all starting to say: we better take this seriously. We better start wearing masks. They’re going backwards on their reopening plan – which is just what we talked about happening,” Cuomo said. “If you reopen too fast, you’re going to have to close. And that’s the worst situation, the worst for the economy and you’re going to lose more people in the meantime.” 

The formula the governor described at his July 1 press briefing includes: testing, tracing, social distancing and wearing a mask. To that last point, a Fox Business report posted July 1 cited a Goldman Sachs study that says a national face mask mandate would slow the spread of COVID-19 and potentially prevent the reinstatement of lockdowns that would wreak havoc on the U.S. economy.  He also cautioned about the slipping of citizen compliance. 

“If you have citizen compliance dropping and you don’t have local governments enforcing, then you’re going to see the virus go up. Period.” Phase 3 indoor dining in New York City was postponed due to a combination of lack of local enforcement, an influx of visitors and lack of public compliance, Cuomo added. 

In Phase 4, social distancing, face-covering and hygiene protocols continue to apply. Arts and entertainment businesses are mandated to limit workforce and patron/visitor presence to no more than 33% of the maximum occupancy for a particular area at any given time outside, and to no more than 25% of maximum occupancy inside. 

Mandatory directives regarding the resuming of professional sports competitions include there be no live audience, fans, or spectators allowed to attend or to enter the venue. Additionally, fans are prohibited from congregating outside the venue. 

The industries which remain closed are amusement parks, video lottery gaming and casino gaming facilities, indoor movie theaters, large gathering concert or event venues, indoor common portions of retail shopping malls greater than 100,000 square feet and gyms and fitness centers. This week more than 200 gym-goers in West Virginia were urged to quarantine after a Planet Fitness client tested positive for Covid-19. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Skidmore College on July 2 announced their fall semester plan that covers everything from Academic Instruction and Residential Life to Campus Life and Engagement.

The plan – introduced as an ongoing work-in-progress - will continue to be refined, Skidmore College President Marc C. Conner said in a statement.  Conner - the eighth president of the college – began his term July 1.

The fall semester will begin two weeks early, on Aug. 24, and conclude on Friday, Nov. 20, prior to Thanksgiving week. Students will finish exams and final projects remotely. There will not be any break during the fall term.

All major public events that would bring large numbers of visitors to campus, such as Celebration Weekend, Homecoming and the Presidential Inauguration, will be shifted to virtual experiences.

“As we have been emphasizing for many weeks, our primary commitment in all of these efforts is the health and safety of our entire community — students, staff, faculty and the surrounding Saratoga Springs community of which we are a part,” Conner said. “Our second commitment is to make possible the Skidmore education as we all value it: high-quality, fully engaged teaching and learning, performed with creativity and skill by superb faculty and staff.”

All students must complete a daily symptom check for seven days prior to their return to campus. and there are plans to have all employees undergo a COVID-19 test prior to returning to work.

Regarding academic instruction: a certain percentage of fall courses will be offered in a remote mode. It is anticipated most classes — estimated to be approximately two-thirds of the classes — will likely be some form of in-person instruction. The exact mode for each class will be determined in the coming weeks and this information will be made available to students by late July.

“Many of the events of typical college social life simply cannot occur this fall. That must be understood by all of us. We will employ technology to make possible group events such as speakers, performances and other programs and events so we can still have communal events, even if they are not in person in the same way,” Conner said.

Academic spaces, classrooms, labs and performance spaces will be reconfigured to accommodate health guidelines. Classrooms will include social distancing spacing, personal protective equipment, including plexiglass where appropriate, enhanced cleaning protocols and more. Outdoor classroom options are additionally being explored.

Residential space for students will allow for appropriate social distancing, maintain standards of health and safety, and prevent too much social density in residential spaces. No more than two students will be housed per room for the academic year. There will be no triple-occupancy rooms. Apartment spaces, which consist of single rooms only, will operating at full occupancy.

“In order to bring all, or nearly all, of our student body to Skidmore, we are arranging for housing in local hotels, consisting of both double and single rooms, comparable to a residence hall living arrangement,” Conner said. Shuttle buses and parking will be available to students living in these hotels.

Seating, layout and foot-traffic flow in Murray-Aikins Dining Hall will be modified to provide for necessary social distancing. Outside seating will be increased with the use of tents. Hours for all dining locations will be slightly modified to allow for cleaning between meals.

To reduce personal contact and limit large group gatherings, students should expect an increased offering of online events, virtual community-building and outdoor activities.

The athletics and fitness schedule will be modified, and fan attendance will either be significantly reduced or eliminated as an in-person experience.

Facemasks will always be required in all public settings, regardless of distancing or room capacity. There will be different requirements for residential spaces. Each student, upon arrival, will receive a starter kit of personal protective equipment (PPE) consisting of two Skidmore reusable facemasks and a bottle of hand sanitizer. Similarly, each employee will receive the PPE starter kit upon returning to campus. Hand sanitizer stations will be set up throughout campus. Safe passage routes, signage and directions will be created to minimize density. Daily and deep-cleaning protocols will be established throughout the campus.

Gatherings on campus will be limited to no more than what health officials’ safety guidelines recommend, always with appropriate distancing and masking. The guidelines are likely to change during the semester.

Testing requirements will be implemented in correspondence with CDC and New York state guidelines. Several testing timelines are under consideration, which could include requiring testing prior to arrival for students, testing on arrival to campus and subsequent surveillance testing. All students will be required to self-monitor, and students with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 will be tested at Skidmore Health Services. More details on the testing protocols in the weeks to come as more information becomes available.

Some residential spaces will be reserved for on-campus students who require quarantine and isolation. Students living in off-campus housing who are in isolation or quarantine will have daily contact with Saratoga County Public Health to assess their needs. Skidmore staff will provide assistance to students to help them keep up with their coursework, and faculty will help students continue to meet course requirements while in isolation or quarantine.

Students and employees will be expected to complete a daily symptom screen that will ask them questions regarding COVID-19 symptoms.

“It is abundantly clear that this will be a fall semester unlike any other. There are deep disappointments in this, of course, as we will all miss some of the treasured events and practices to which we have long been accustomed. But the heart and soul of the Skidmore College experience will remain intact, and in many ways, our creative approach to the semester will provide experiences that will be equally, if not more, fulfilling,” Conner said. “This is a special time of challenge, and I am confident that our entire Skidmore community is equal to this challenge. Together we will get to the other side of this challenge, and we will look back with pride on how we conducted ourselves as a dedicated community.”

For details regarding the Skidmore College plan go to: https://www.skidmore.edu/fall-planning/index.php.

ALBANY — A tri-state travel advisory affecting travelers coming to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut went into effect at midnight on June 24. 

The advisory – announced jointly by NY Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont stipulates that individuals traveling from states with significant community spread of COVID-19 quarantine for a 14-day period, from the time of last contact within the identified state. 

The quarantine applies to any person arriving from a state with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a 7-day rolling average or a state with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average.  When the advisory was announced, on Wednesday, June 24, those states above the infection rate were: states above the infection rate are: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North and South Carolina, Washington, Utah, and Texas.

The tri-state measure will use uniform parameters and messaging on highways, airports, websites and social media across the three states. The three states will also ask hotels to communicate the 14-day quarantine to guests who have traveled from one of the impacted states. Those found violating the quarantine can be subject to judicial order and fines, Gov. Cuomo said. 

“Two thousand dollars for the first violation, $5,000 for the second, up to $10,000 if you cause harm,” the governor said. 

Guidelines for Phase Four Reopening, which is currently slated for the greater Capital Region July 1 have been posted on Gov. Cuomo’s website at: forward.ny.gov/phase-four-industries. 

Those categorized industries are: Higher Education; Low-Risk Outdoor Arts & Entertainment; Low-Risk Indoor Arts & Entertainment, and Media Production. 

Thursday, 25 June 2020 12:40

SPAC 2020: Plans Untethered

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The amphitheater is quiet with a passive unease. Neither bluster nor discord rise from these seats, and a disturbing tranquility hovers atop the stage. These first days of summer in the summer of COVID, the grounds are vacant of any human. The earth takes deep breaths and exhales a hissing of summer lawns. 

“On March 16, our whole staff of 25 began working from home and have not been back to the office,” says Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. “Our magnificent amphitheater – normally a frenetic hive of activity – is now shuttered. Who or what you might ask is SPAC in a summer that seems to have gone silent? And who are we in a world of hurt that longs for healing?”

Deep behind the scenes, however, plans are underway that point to renewal. This place of creativity is getting creative. “Untethered,” Sobol calls it. 

“Un-tethered. We are no longer tethered to this beast that is SPAC in the summer. It’s forcing us to be open and creative and kind of invent stuff on the spot and figure out what we can do,” Sobol says. 

“We’ve been thinking about ways we can help the community of musicians, the community of wellness practitioners. That’s where we really started focusing our energy: How can we use the SPAC grounds and the new spaces to allow the community to do the things here that they really need to do and where there’s not any other place to do it?”

SPAC has been working on staging in-person gathering on its grounds this summer, which is slated to potentially include wellness activities in partnership with COESA, art classes, small-scale musical events, cinematic performance screenings and other types of gatherings, all in adherence with guidelines from the state, and all on the sprawling SPAC lawns.   

“We’re putting together detailed procedures and protocols which include socially distanced parking, contact-less registration and ticketing.”  Spots to be inhabited by humans will be separated and marked off in chalk, attendance will be limited, and one single-use sanitized bathroom will be open. 

 The organization is also set to unveil The Pines at SPAC - a new construction project which should be completed by the second week of July. The 4,000 square foot indoor/outdoor, year-round education and community events space features a pavilion and a terrace where some small gathering events may take place. 

“The challenge for us: When the acronym ‘SPAC’ is uttered people imagine thousands and thousands of people and the ‘COVID Shudder’ goes through them; what we’re trying to do is: don’t think of us as SPAC – the home of Live Nation and presenter of the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra in the amphitheater. Think of us as a home in the park and all the acreage of open space that we have where people can gather safely. And we have this incredible team who has created this fantastic protocol,” says Sobol, who arrived at SPAC in the fall of 2016. 

There are of course financial ramifications. SPAC is a 501(c)3 charitable organization with an annual operating budget of about $10 million. While capital funds for infrastructure projects have come via Parks and the State, there is no similarly sourced financial support for operating the organization. 

To normally meet that $10 million operating budget, about $5 million in revenue is generated from ticket sales, rent paid by promoter Live Nation which stages the summer pop concerts, and some other miscellaneous sources.  The other $5 million must largely be raised through SPAC memberships, charitable donations and corporate underwriting.

“The only thing that will sustain us and allow us to operate in 2021 is if we have people  support now, because you can’t shut SPAC down until the end of the year and think you’re going to have a summer next year. The work we do, the programming itself takes a year to do a season at SPAC. We just don’t know what next year is going to look like. Are we still going to be in social distancing mode - in which case we’ll only be able to (for example) sell 1,200 seats in our 5,200-seat amphitheater? Will the ballet be able to perform? Will they be able to put an orchestra in the pit? There are just so many questions,” Sobol says. 

“And there is our education program – we went from 5,000 to more than 50,000 kids a year throughout the Capital Region. That’s a huge impact we’ve had on the community and the children and creating that next generation of kids who care about the arts. That’s critical work we’re doing 24/7, 365 days-a-year. If we don’t have the support that all goes away and the programming for next year goes away.” That program worked with more than 120 local schools and non-profit organizations to present more than 400 unique classes, events, performances, and presentations in 2019 alone. 

The Capital Region is scheduled for Phase 4 of its reopening plan on July 1. SPAC is anticipated to announce its summer events shortly thereafter.

“To those who may ask why art is important during times like these, when even basic survival may be in question, remember this: art is not entertainment. Art is not a beautiful pastime. Art is a profound and essential expression of the human soul.”

This weekend, in lieu of the staging of the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, a virtual jazz festival will take place on June 26, 27 and 28, featuring both national and local artists, produced in partnership with Caffe Lena. SPAC has also created a virtual Learning Library featuring artists on its website. For more information, go to: SPAC.org. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS - The 2020 summer meet at historic Saratoga Race Course will feature 71 stakes worth $14.45 million, encompassing 39 graded stakes and 18 Grade 1s - from Thursday, July 16 through Monday, Sept. 7.

"We're thrilled to be racing at Saratoga this summer, and we thank Governor Andrew Cuomo for his support and the support of horsemen who have worked with us to navigate the many challenges," NYRA President and CEO Dave O'Rourke said in a statement. "While this will be anything but a traditional Saratoga season, we hope to provide a semblance of normalcy for both the local community as well as racing fans across the country."

Under current New York state guidelines, Saratoga Race Course will open July 16 without spectators in attendance. The 40-day meet will feature at least one stakes race every live racing day, highlighted by the 151st renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Runhappy Travers on August 8 and the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney on August 1, as the anchors of two of the biggest racing days in North America.

After opening weekend, racing will be conducted five days a week, Wednesdays through Sundays.

Whitney Day, set for Saturday, Aug.1, will feature three Grade 1 events, led by the historic Whitney, a handicap at 1 1/8 miles with an automatic berth to the Breeders' Cup Classic on November 7 at Keeneland on the line.

The card is bolstered by the Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign, a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Distaff in November; and the Grade 1, $300,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial presented by Runhappy for 3-year-olds sprinting seven furlongs.

The stakes-laden card also includes the Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green for 4-year-olds and up on the turf and the $200,000 Caress, a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint for older fillies and mares.

The Runhappy Travers, traditionally contested at the end of August, will be held this year on Aug. 8 to properly account for the schedule adjustments and overall calendar for 3-year-olds in training due to the health and safety measures instituted to mitigate risk and combat the spread of COVID-19.

The "Mid-Summer Derby" will still be contested at 1 1/4 miles for the country's most talented 3-year-olds and is one of three Grade 1s on the day, joining the $300,000 Ballerina for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up going seven furlongs in a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

A pair of stakes for sophomore state-breds originally scheduled at Aqueduct Racetrack, the NYSSS Times Square and NYSSS Park Avenue, will now be contested at Saratoga on Aug. 27 and Sept. 3 respectively, both offering a purse of $100,000 for the 6 1/2-furlong main-track sprints.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Work continues on the development of a multi-story parking garage that will connect conference attendees and others with the Saratoga Springs City Center. 

Plans call for the lower level of the structure to be completed and available for use during the summer, with all levels of the structure completed by the fall. 

“The goal is as soon as possible,” City Center Executive Director Ryan McMahon said this week, as a 400 ton crane tended to the business at hand atop the lot where the structure is being developed.

The COVID-19 pandemic slightly affected the progress of the development. 

“We’ll probably open now in early November instead of early October,” McMahon said. 

The City Center itself, like most all other venues across the country where large groups of people gather, has canceled events during the pandemic - although the good news is that most of those events have been rescheduled to take place at a later time, McMahon said. A handful of previously scheduled events slated to take place during the summer are still being held in the hopeful anticipation that they may be able to take place. 

The greater Capital Region –a multi-county area that includes Saratoga – this week entered the third phase of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s four-phase reopening plan. Should infection, hospitalization and death rates due to COVID-19 remain low, the region is slated to enter Phase 4 on July 1. Phase 4 includes arts, entertainment, and recreation. 

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