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Arts face lean times

ALBANY -- Most entertainers and artists perform from their hearts.

A more select group give from theirs, too.

Eileen Ivers, who will perform Thursday in her multimedia musical show "Beyond the Bog Road" -- a big part of the Albany Symphony's primary fundraising effort this season -- falls into that latter category.

The show was almost canceled. But when she learned of the financial problems the symphony was having this season, Ivers and her management company waived their portion of the proceeds from the show, which has enabled it to go ahead with the full 13-member ensemble of musicians and dancers.

"Unfortunately, I know they're having a very hard time struggling this season with, as you know, so many arts being cut," Ivers said in a telephone interview Wednesday from Loan, Utah. "I'm actually donating my time to go down there and support the Albany Symphony organization and bring this 13-person ensemble down to the concert."

Ivers' show focuses on the legacy of Irish music and facing hard times is a major component of its message, from the deadly 1840s famine in Ireland to the mass emigration of survivors of that famine from Ireland to America. Helping out an organization such as the symphony that is struggling just seems to fit in with Ivers' character.

"We're more than happy to try to put on this production and certainly help them as a fundraiser because we know they are in real dire straights down there and we certainly hate to see an arts program being cut, especially in good towns like Albany," she said. "So when we heard about that, we decided to still do the concert. We really hope the community will come out and support, first of all, their wonderful Albany Symphony."

Paula Fay, executive director of the symphony, said Friday the organization, which has tied its major fundraiser for the season -- $50 chances for an eight-day trip for two to Ireland -- to Ivers' show, almost had to cancel the performance.

"We were at the point where we were going to have to cancel the show," Fay said. "It was just a wonderful gesture. She has a true love for the arts."

There are still expenses that the symphony is paying for the other performers and other costs associated with the production, but Ivers' generosity allowed the show to, well, not get bogged down.

"She performs from the heart and she gives from the heart," Fay said. "She's definitely giving back to the symphony. She's as nice on the inside as she is on the outside."

The financial problems that the Albany symphony is facing are not unique, said Ivers, who has crisscrossed the country numerous times in her 20-year career.

"To be honest, we see it in spots around the country," she said. "Thankfully, right at the moment we're performing in Utah. We're actually doing our second night in this venue, the beautiful (Ellen) Eccles Theatre in Logan, Utah, and they're actually doing very well, which is wonderful.

"But you do see it across the country and it breaks our heart, obviously, because we've been performing artists for so many years and a big proponent of the performing arts. It's so important in a community and to get young people involved in seeing these programs. It pains me to see organizations like the Albany Symphony suffering at the moment."

And her personal sacrifice because of her love for the arts was likely the deciding factor that gave the Albany Symphony the ability to go on with the show. Sponsors the symphony has been able to rely on in the past couldn't come through for it this time.

"If the community will come out and support concerts like this," Ivers said. "I think it's just going to give back tenfold to the community, to the arts, and this particular program is generational."

Fay said the symphony subsists primarily on two sources of revenue -- grants and private donations. As the economy declined over the past few years, those sources of revenues dropped as well. Grants alone are 72 percent down, she said.

"This year's been a struggle," she said. "We've had grants that usually fund some of our performances that are no longer available.

"We haven't had to cancel anything yet, but every time just before the concert, we're biting our nails."

While the symphony may not appeal to everyone, its presence is a selling point for the community as a quality-of-life asset. It's the sort of thing businesses and people look at when deciding whether to come to a community, Fay noted.

"I'd hate to see the community lose this important asset," she said.

The one bright spot may be indications that the symphony has already survived the worst of the economic problems the community, state and nation have faced. As the economy recovers, arts funding historically recovers, too.

"We have to be positive," Fay said.