By CLOEY CALLAHAN
Both the arts and nonprofit organizations, like everyone else, have had to readjust with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting them both financially and in regards to programming. Here in Newburgh, the Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands as well as the Greater Newburgh Symphony Orchestra have had to think of new and innovative ways to keep people interested and involved.
The Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands’ annual Candlelight Tour, loved and looked forward to by many, has gone virtual to keep some of the tradition alive. In its 40th year, the volunteers knew they had to find a way to carry the tradition along.
This year, from December 1 to January 1, the Newburgh Historical Society is having a virtual tour that will feature stories and photos from the past tours, featuring the historic Captain David Crawford House decorated in traditional 19th century splendor.
“Over the summer when COVID was here, I ran into one of the coworkers of the Candlelight Tour and we were already asking ourselves if we were going to be able to have it this year,” said Warren Cahill, chair of the Candlelight Tour committee. “The thought of asking people to open up their homes – we knew it wasn’t going to happen this year. It’s gotten even worse since over the summer.”
Once September rolled around, it was clear they had to make alternate plans. In past years, there have been over 400 people who came out for the event to see decorated homes in Newburgh. Being in this tough situation, they decided to do it online.
In addition to featured stories and photos there will be examples of past booklets and tutorials on how to make some of the Crawford House holiday decorations, like the popular fruit and candy trees. Mary McTamaney, the City of Newburgh Historian, has written about the past holiday celebrations in the city and about the history of the Crawford House, which will also be available online to read. Works from Don Herron, the late Newburgh artist, will be available to view as well.
“We have photos of people touring the house and many of our past tour members might see their own faces there,” said Cahill.
The pandemic has had a clear impact on every single person and business across the board. With not-for-profits, like the Newburgh Historical Society, relying heavily on donations and admission fees, they have taken a significant hit financially.
“This tour has always been the major fundraiser for the historical society,” said Cahill. “We all are volunteers but of course there are bills that have to be paid to maintain the Crawford House like heating and electricity. We need money for this.”
While the virtual tour is by donation, the past tours had a ticket price of $35.
“We’re going to be missing that,” said Cahill. “On this Candlelight Tour we are asking for donations from our loyal public who can perhaps help us out.”
The Newburgh Historical Society has been closed since March and they have not been able to hold events, which they were doing as often as once a month pre-pandemic.
“I’m an optimistic person,” said Cahill. “With a little bit of luck, determination and people wearing their masks, we can overcome this with a vaccine and get back to normal in the springtime or early summer.”
They plan to reopen their doors as soon as it is safe to do so and hope to have a Candlelight Tour in person once again next year. To experience the virtual tour for yourself, head over to newburghhistoricalsociety.com anytime between December 1 and January 1.
On the other hand, the Greater Newburgh Symphony Orchestra didn’t necessarily face a financial impact because they did a majority of their fundraising back in January and February before the pandemic hit. However, they too have been closed since March.
Their popular champagne brunch that honors those involved in the orchestra, planned to be held at the Powelton Club in April, was postponed until it was eventually clear it wouldn’t be able to happen this year and was canceled.
“It’s our primary fundraising event every year in the spring, which we honor people that have helped the orchestra,” said John Bliss, past president of the orchestra. “At the start of November we saw we wouldn’t be able to do it. Usually we get 140 people and you can’t have that many people in a place.”
In addition to the ticket sales that people said could be donations with the cancellation, they were able to hold their annual silent auction online. This year, the silent auction was dedicated to not only celebrating the orchestra but to honor John and Sue Bliss. John was the president for the past years and Sue worked on the development aspects of the symphony and the prior spring brunches.
Now, the Greater Newburgh Symphony Orchestra is turning to another online initiative to not only fundraise but to provide the community with an interesting and informative series. Music Director Russell Ger will be doing an online “Talk Series” over four dates in December and January. Each interactive presentation will be an hour long from 7 to 8 p.m. The first one is on Thursday, December 3 titled “1,000 Years of Music in 60 Minutes.” Following that, the schedule includes one on Monday, December 14, “Leonard Bernstein: The Man Who Shaped Music in America,” one on Thursday, January 7, “Mirror Images: Beethoven’s Fifth & Mahler’s Sixth,” and the last one is on Monday, January 25, “Dancing with the Devil: Shostakovich & Stalin.”
“For this series I have chosen some of the musical subjects about which I am most passionate,” said Ger. “All in all, I would love to attend this series were I not presenting it!”
“We did a very thorough thing to find out what people wanted for this series,” said John. “We were happy to see that they wanted to do this twice a month.”
Tickets for the event are $20 per household for a single presentation or $70 for all four performances. They can be purchased and accessed at newburghsymphony.org.
“Anyone who even doesn’t know music can enjoy and appreciate this,” said John. “I think many of the regulars will respond and that we attract new people by word of mouth.”
Additionally, Ger is planning a tentative schedule for an outdoor summer concert series for the 2021 summer. They do not have a timetable for restarting concerts earlier than that.
“It’s all tentative,” said Bliss. “But this is the kind of stuff we are looking to do.”