ITHACA, N.Y.—In a press conference under the State Theatre’s iconic marquee, State Senator Lea Webb made a Saturday afternoon appearance in Ithaca to announce the allocation of $103,000 of state funding coming to the downtown staple this year. 

Webb was joined by Assemblymember Anna Kelles, her collaborator in the push for state funding of historic theaters, Ithaca Mayor Laura Lewis, members of the State Theatre’s Board of Directors and the theater’s executive director Doug Levine to discuss the funding. The money comes as a part of a $5,000,000 package in the budget designed to provide support to a coalition of thirteen historic theaters in upstate New York known as “Alive Downtowns!”

Webb emphasized that the funding for theaters was part of a broader push to include more arts funding in the state’s budget. After several delays, the budget was passed less than a week before Webb held her news conference. 

“We’re trying to make historic investments in programs and services that have been significantly underinvested in for decades, and so when you talk about ‘how do you revitalize a community’ […] in my very humble opinion you cannot talk about economic development and not bring in the arts.” Webb added, “This boost delivers, we hope, an ongoing investment to historic theaters like this [one], because we understand that our local businesses are still in recovery mode from the devastation of the pandemic.”

Credit: Casey Martin / The Ithaca Voice

The State Theatre is a cornerstone of Ithacan culture, one that was hit hard by COVID—its annual average attendance dropping 38% from its pre-pandemic peak. Executive Director Doug Levine hopes the state funding will give the theater a much-needed pick-me-up. 

“This is a happy day, this is a celebration,” said Levine.

Levine says that the extra money will go not only to improving the quality of the theater for both performers and patrons, but also to the State’s dedicated staff, who kept it running during its nearly 20-month pandemic shutdown. 

“Without my people, we are nothing […] and we need to take care of the staff so we can continue to thrive,” he said. 

Lewis emphasized that not only is the state funding an investment in the culture of Ithaca, but in its economy as well. Said Lewis: “This is a space that feeds our soul—that we can come and enjoy. [And] this space is also an economic development generator. People who come to a show will be eating out before or after. It brings a vitality to our downtown that’s really important.”

Ithacans can catch several more shows before the State Theatre closes for the summer, including a Benefit Concert for the theater on May 17 and a livestream of Barton Hall’s 50th Anniversary Dead & Company Show on May 8.