Upstate Historic Performing Arts Centers Form Alive Downtowns!

13 downtown historic performing arts centers from Jamestown to Poughkeepsie have come together to form Alive Downtowns! The coalition, having met virtually since the start of the pandemic, is seeking $20 million in operating support from the state.

Bardavon, photo by Tim Lee.

Alive Downtowns! main goal is to encourage the lawmakers of New York to think of historic theatres in the same way they do aquariums and zoos, which are shown to have a significant public benefit. It is an affiliate corporation to the Upstate Theater Coalition for a Fairgame, established eight years ago in response to the creation of casinos in the eastern and southern tiers of the state.

Ulster Performing Arts Center, photo by Em Walis.

The historic theatres of Upstate New York are essential to each city’s urban education opportunities, economic viability, and continuing attractiveness. John Parkhurst, Chief Operating Officer of the Rochester Broadway Theatre League commented, “The COVID-19 shutdown of nearly two years has impacted us greatly as an industry. We are coming back, all of us, but, frankly without this coalition it would have been much harder.” The coalition is helping these places become recognized, and be bettered.

Photo by Z-Toad

Members of the coalition include Bardavon 1896 Opera House (Poughkeepsie), Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Clemens Center (Elmira), Palace Performing Arts Center (Albany), Proctors Collaborative (Schenectady, Albany, Saratoga), Forum Theatre (Binghamton), The Reg Lenna Center for the Arts (Jamestown), Rochester Broadway Theatre League’s Auditorium Theatre (Rochester), Shea’s Performing Arts Center (Buffalo), The Smith Center for the Arts (Geneva), Stanley Theatre (Utica), State Theatre of Ithaca, Syracuse’s Landmark Theatre, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and Ulster Performing Arts Center (Kingston).

Alive Downtowns!
Proctors Theatre interior, photographed by Erica Miller.

These facilities combined have an average age of nearly 100 years and are keystones to the downtown areas of the cities they are in. They serve over 5 million people annually including thousands of students. Their economic impacts for upstates major downtowns exceed $350 million and their aggregate budgets exceed $100 million.

The Smith Center for the Arts, photo by Joe Booth.

In a meeting with local legislators and the Governor’s office, the response has been very supportive. The coalition is grateful for that response and hopes to reach all state elected officials to assure an annual appropriation that will allow its members to continue to be part of growing upstate downtowns guaranteeing accessibility for all citizens for years to come.

The Stanley Theatre.

Chris Silva, long-time Executive Director of the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie added, “This group of performing arts centers are economic, educational, and cultural engines in Upstate. We are hoping the state can make a modest investment in us that will pay huge dividends.” Upon meeting with local legislators and the Governor’s office, the response has been very supportive for the coalition’s efforts.

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