Lake Placid Center for the Arts plans for another 50 years

LPCA's 2021 Open Sky Arts Festival included Miko Marks performing at Gallery 46 on Main Street in Lake Placid. The original outdoor performance was rained out and postponed so Gallery 46 was the alternate venue. (Provided photo — Nancie Battaglia)

LAKE PLACID — After more than 50 years of providing arts, entertainment and education to the Lake Placid community and beyond, the Lake Placid Center for the Arts is on the brink of new half-century era. That starts with a brand new building, which is expected to replace the LPCA’s annex on its campus located at 17 Algonquin Ave. in the next few years.

This year, the LPCA — founded as a visual arts school in 1972, then known as the Center for Music, Drama and Art — is celebrating 50 years of operations. The center has actually been open for nearly 51 years, but LPCA Executive Director James Lemons said that 2020, when the center shuttered in-person operations and performances due to pandemic-related state orders, isn’t being counted in the total tally.

“We felt bad because we couldn’t really celebrate our 50th anniversary,” Lemons said. “We’re gearing up to lean into that this year.”

Though the LPCA is throwing its 50th-anniversary gala on Thursday, July 20, LPCA staff members are already celebrating. That’s because they won a $7.5 million state grant on Thursday, June 8 to build a new arts facility that will essentially ensure another 50 years of performances, art exhibits and art-based community classes at the LPCA. Construction is expected to start in the spring or summer of 2024 and be complete by 2026, according to Lemons.

Lake Placid Center for the Arts Executive Director James Lemons welcomes attendees of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism Spring Social to the facility's gallery on April 29, 2023. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Thinking about the future

LPCA staff, board members and stakeholders have been thinking about the LPCA’s future for a while now — most notably when the LPCA started a new strategic planning process last year. At the center of that process was a question: What will the community want from the LPCA in the next five years?

A big community “want” that was identified has also become a need: A new building. Like the LPCA, the campus’s buildings are around 50 years old, and their age shows in infrastructure issues and technology limitations. The strategic plan also showed that people wanted a modernized theater to bring in bigger, more advanced artists; more space for more art classes; and more room for art galleries.

The theme here is “more.” That’s because the LPCA has been growing. From filled-up classes for adults and kids like tumbling and pottery to sprawling art exhibits by local artists and even virtual courses — which sometimes meet the 100-person class maximum and draw attendees from across the world — the LPCA needs more space and technology to accommodate its growing programming. On any given day, you might find a mainstage performance, an art show featuring local artists, a rehearsal for the Lake Placid Sinfonietta or the Community String Orchestra of the Adirondacks, a weaving class, a virtual watercolor class and a preschool program. It’s not unusual for five to seven activities to be happening on the LPCA’s campus at once, according to LPCA Director of Communications Alison Simcox.

The sign at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts is seen on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, just as the coronavirus pandemic was getting started. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

“It’s bustling even if there’s something that’s not on the marquee,” Simcox said.

At the same time, Simcox said the strategic planning process showed that the community loves the personal feeling of the LPCA’s offerings. That includes the intimacy of its current theater, where people have sat at the feet of musicians like the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra players and listened to world-renowned speakers, such as environmental author Bill McKibben, as if in personal conversation. With its new facility, the LPCA is looking to hold onto that feeling of “home” that the community has come to cherish while bringing in the global acts Lake Placid easily attracts.

“We wouldn’t want to build something new that didn’t still have that (feeling of home) because it feels like an important part of who we are and who we’ve been able to be in the community,” Simcox said.

At the heart of the LPCA’s planning process for the new arts center, which Lemons expects will take place over the next six to seven months, is community and stakeholder input, including LPCA partners and tenants.

“We want to make sure that whatever we plan in this process will serve the community for another 50-plus years,” Lemons said.

Visitors look at the “Twice Blessed” exhibit in the Lake Placid Center for the Arts gallery during the summer of 2021, which featured paintings from Holly Friesen and photographs from Tom Curley. (Provided photo — Lake Placid Center for the Arts)

Simcox sees the LPCA’s two buildings as a true community space. Right now, the annex houses LPCA administrative staff and tenants Head Start Lake Placid, the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society and Adirondack Film. Simcox said that it’s important to the organization to carve out space for these tenants in the new facility, so their space needs will be considered in the new center’s design phase. And to continue inviting the community into the LPCA, Simcox said the organization is looking to establish a more “welcoming” presence on Saranac Avenue with the new facility.

The LPCA wants to schedule and advertise a formal community feedback session to get an idea of what people would like to see in the new center, but a date or format hasn’t been decided yet. In the meantime, Simcox said, people can contact the LPCA on whatever platform is most accessible to them — social media, via phone at 518-523-2512 or email at info@lakeplacidarts.org.

“Send us a paper airplane — we’re here,” Simcox said.

Pandemic changes

Visitors enjoy live music during the Open Sky Arts Festival outside the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. (Provided photo — Charlie Reinertsen)

A big part of the LPCA’s new era was inadvertently born from the coronavirus pandemic, when the LPCA in March 2020 — like other businesses and organizations in the area — was forced to close its doors to the public. The LPCA’s mission is to bring people together by experiencing art, culture and community, Lemons said, and the pandemic forced the organization to come up with new ways to fulfill its mission. The internet — specifically, the Zoom online meeting platform, was the solution.

The LPCA’s dance program, Emerge125, went online within four days of the state mandate on businesses, and soon after, the center established its twice-a-week online education programs. The online classes now serve 3,000 people a year from seven countries and 37 U.S. states, according to Lemons.

Thanks to the virtual programs’ success, they’re likely to become a mainstay at the LPCA.

“I don’t think they’ll go away for a while — if ever, to be honest,” Lemons said.

Though the LPCA made it through the pandemic successfully, the pandemic rearranged how that success was defined. While in-person performances ceased, the virtual classes and Gallery 46, the LPCA’s art gallery on Main Street that features local artists, thrived. The gallery experienced its best sales ever during the pandemic at $250,000 in sales per year, according to Lemons. The LPCA also received some extra coronavirus-related government aid and donor assistance during the pandemic.

Lemons said that getting through the pandemic wasn’t nearly as challenging as it’s been coming back from it, specifically with in-person performances. Audiences have a lingering uncertainty about gathering in some instances, Lemons said, and inflation has raised the cost of bringing in artists by about 30 to 35%. The LPCA’s ticket sales were down 20% immediately out of pandemic-related restrictions on in-person gatherings, according to Lemons. While the LPCA’s performances used to fill the center’s theater at about 90% capacity before the pandemic started, that dropped to around 70% once pandemic restrictions were lifted.

Ticket sale trends are getting better, though, Lemons noted — specifically in the last six months or so — and LPCA hopes to reignite community enthusiasm for in-person performances with the new facility’s modernized theater.

The rising tide

As the LPCA moves forward with the new facility, Lemons sees the organization’s potential for broadened impact on the community as being in line with other local arts organizations like the Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake, which in May landed a $2 million state grant for a new facility. Once all these new facilities are complete, Lemons believes they could act as a “rising tide” that builds the Adirondack Park’s reputation for the arts and artists. That could have ripple effects on the local tourism economy, he said.

“I think that this is such an exciting time for arts and culture in the community and in the region,” Lemons said. “We’re on the precipice of having this tremendous effect locally.”

Lemons sees the founding of the LPCA and its original buildings as an investment in the community. He believes the new facility underscores the LPCA’s foundation as an organization that has always banked on the community.

“That was a fantastic opening chapter, and this investment now is a fantastic bookend,” Lemons said.

More to come

This is the first story in a two-part exclusive Lake Placid News series about the Lake Placid Center for the Arts as the organization celebrates 50 years of operations this year.

Part two, which will reflect on the LPCA’s founding and early years, will be published in a future issue of the Lake Placid News.

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