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Lumberyard hopes to save key program

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    An exterior shot of the Lumberyard Center for Film and the Performing Arts in Catskill.
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    Lumberyard has announced it will suspend its performing arts program if the company does not acquire $1 million in funding by the end of the year.
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    Lumberyard could suspend a linchpin program if organizers are unable to raise $1 million by year’s end.
July 11, 2019 04:51 pm Updated: July 11, 2019 11:56 pm

CATSKILL — The Lumberyard Center for Film and Performing Arts could be forced to dramatically reduce its operations in Catskill if the organization is unable to raise $1 million by the end of the year.

Lumberyard has launched a fundraising campaign, “Sprint to a Million,” to generate money required to continue the organization’s “signature program,” executive and artistic director Adrienne Willis said.

“One of the reasons we moved to Catskill was for this core program that we have — we are filling this very important need in New York City, for a lot of artists who perform at the big theaters in Manhattan,” Willis said. “All of the new theaters that have been built in New York have been designed to showcase design and technology — lighting, sound, staging — but there is no way for the artists to go from these little rehearsal studios, which is all they have available in New York, to these big theaters without some stop in between where they can play around and really integrate the technology. That is why we built Lumberyard originally.”

Artists do not pay Lumberyard to hold their rehearsals there. Lumberyard covers all of their costs, which can reach thousands of dollars each time.

“We have never had an artist that had pockets deep enough to rent our space and fund it,” Willis said. “The performing arts in the United States has always been a mixture of government, philanthropy and ticket sales.”

So four artists — Wendy Whelan, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Elizabeth Streb and David Neumann — banded together to spearhead the fundraising campaign and wrote a letter of support asking individuals and philanthropic organizations to contribute money to Lumberyard’s cause.

“Lumberyard is crucial,” Neumann said. “They have quickly recognized what artists need and have provided it. For me and so many of my peers, making new work requires a place to bring together a large group of collaborators and experiment and hash out ideas on a fully equipped stage. And design and technology are essential elements. We need to work through them just as fully as we do the choreography and direction of the performers. There are whole productions I have chosen to undertake only because Lumberyard exists to make them possible.”

Lumberyard moved to Catskill last year from its former home in Maryland, where the organization was known as the American Dance Institute, taking over the former Dunn Builders and Supply complex on the Catskill waterfront and transforming it into a high-tech rehearsal space.

Since 2011, when the American Dance Institute opened, until today in its Catskill facility, the organization has helped stage 80 productions that premiered in New York City.

The program was originally launched with seed money, but needs donors to step up to reach the $1 million goal.

“We have not been successful in raising funding from the New York City philanthropic community for this program,” Willis said. “Even though we are in Catskill, it was really a specific program built to serve New York City, and we haven’t been able to raise that money yet.”

But though this component of Lumberyard’s offerings might be curtailed, the venue is staying in Catskill and several of its existing programs will continue, she noted.

“Our commitment to Catskill remains and that is the most important thing to us right now,” Willis said. “We will continue our three community youth programs and we will still be a center for film and television, community events and smaller productions, but it won’t be of this caliber until we can get more people to buy in.”

The organization will not pursue state or federal funding, which Willis said “doesn’t exist.”

Three youth programs will remain in Catskill whether or not the $1 million is raised. They are Lumberyard Young Performers, which works in Catskill schools offering free after-school arts programming; Fresh Start, a program for incarcerated teens in the area to use performing arts to reduce recidivism rates; and Junior Crew, which trains high school students and others to work on stage crews.

Lumberyard would also continue working with commercial film and theater groups, which can pay for their services.

But if programming at Lumberyard is reduced due to lack of funding, it could have an impact on the surrounding community, Jeff Friedman, president and executive director of the Greene County Chamber of Commerce, said.

Shows staged at Lumberyard are performed at the Catskill venue. The most recent production, by Ephrat Asherie Dance, is being performed in Catskill prior to its fall New York City premiere at the Guggenheim Museum.

“If they are suspending that type of operation it would certainly be a blow to the community, as it would reduce visitors being attracted to the area for their programming,” Friedman said. “It would certainly reduce the number of options for things to do, so certainly it would be a detriment. Obviously they are a draw and they are certainly an important part of attracting other creative businesses to the area.”

The Lumberyard does not appear to have received a grant from the Shubert Foundation in 2018 or 2017, and I'm sitting here scratching my head wondering, "why?"

The Shubert Foundation has awarded a record total of $32 million to 556 not-for-profit performing arts organizations across the United States. This marks the 37th consecutive year that the Foundation has increased its giving. Their purpose is tailor made for exactly the effort and spawning ground that the Lumberyard represents. They gave $300,000 to the Public Theatre this year, and $225,000 to the New York Theatre Workshop (sorry if the "re" at the end of "Theatre" seems pretentious to the editor, but that's how it's spelled). They gave $225,000 to the New York Theatre Workshop in 2018, and $175,000 the previous year. And they gave $245,000 to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this year, too, for example, so their grants are not just NY centric. Perhaps, I'm missing something, and the Lumberyard is already a beneficiary of the Shubert Foundation as a subsidiary of The New York Theatre Workshop. But, if not, someone should ring the bell of the Shubert Foundation because The Lumberyard is right up their alley- after all the Shubert Brothers all broke into the Big Apple, but came from Schenectady, NY. and the basis of theatre in America was founded in the concept of the circuit and the smaller towns, villages and venues that fed (and still feed) Broadway.

Sorry if this is a "been there, done it, tried it, suggestion" to the great folks at the Lumberyard. But, for the kind of funding drive they are on, an emergency six figure grant from The Shubert Foundation, would seem to be right up the Shubert's Alley.