Trying to resurrect a local venue hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and revive local live performances, Warren Fiscal Court voted 6-0 Wednesday to allocate $750,000 in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds to the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center.
The cash infusion kicks off a merger of SKyPAC with Orchestra Kentucky that will lead to a new entity called Arts of Southern Kentucky, to be led by current Orchestra Kentucky Music Director Jeff Reed.
“Fiscal court is basically giving us a new beginning,” Reed said after the meeting. “The coronavirus has really affected the performing arts. It’s absolutely the worst industry to be in during a pandemic. It has been a real struggle for both SKyPAC and Orchestra Kentucky.”
Reed will be president and chief executive officer of the new ASK organization and will oversee the county-owned SKyPAC and Capitol Arts Center buildings.
“It’s an opportunity to use the synergy and cost savings you get with a merger,” Reed said.
Reed fills a void left by the departure of former SKyPAC President and CEO Tom Carto and other members of upper-level management.
“This gives us an opportunity for new leadership and a fresh start,” Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon said. “I expect this to be a sustainable facility for years to come.”
For now, though, it will be a considerably slimmed-down organization.
Thanks in part to help from fiscal court in taking over such expenses as maintenance and utilities, the new ASK organization will run a tight ship, Reed said.
“We have created a budget that is modest going forward,” Reed said. “We’ll eliminate unnecessary expenses. We owe it to our patrons and the taxpayers to be as efficient and responsible as possible.”
Reed, who has been with Orchestra Kentucky since its founding 20 years ago, said that organization has an annual budget of $1.3 million. The new merged ASK organization will have a budget of about $2 million initially.
Although he comes from an orchestra background, Reed said that doesn’t mean the new organization will be limited to orchestral performances.
“The programming will still be directed at a broad audience,” he said. “The orchestra will not be having any additional performances. We’ll have 11 or 12 per season. We’ll have all kinds of music, Broadway productions, comedians and more.”
In the short term, though, programming will be severely limited.
Reed said venues like SKyPAC must adhere to pandemic protocols, including social distancing, that will limit attendance in the 1,700-seat venue to about 350.
“That puts us at about 20 percent of capacity,” Reed said, “which means we’ll have to do multiple performances. Orchestra Kentucky has 950 subscribers, so we’ll have to do three performances just to meet that demand.”
Reed said some Christmastime programming is already planned, including movies at the Capitol Arts Center and a “Rockin’ Christmas” performance by local band The Rewinders.
Simply having performances of any kind will put SKyPAC ahead of most venues around the country, Buchanon said.
“Every arts center in the nation has been shut down since March,” Buchanon said. “I’m guessing half of them in New York City may never open again. This merger benefits both entities and will get them on a strong footing for the future.”
That’s important to the health of the Bowling Green area, Reed said. “The SKyPAC building is such a treasure,” he said. “Guest artists are blown away by the facility we have.”
Keeping that building alive with music and arts can be an antidote to the troubles brought on by the pandemic, Reed said.
“Artistic performances can allow us to escape from our problems,” he said. “This (merger) is offering something positive by trying to keep the arts alive.”
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