On the heels of a successful 2022 launch, the Phoenix Festival: Live Arts Hudson Valley has been awarded an $86,000 grant from Empire State Development’s Division of Tourism, through the state’s Regional Economic Development Council initiative. The grant from I LOVE NY’s Market New York program will support the Festival’s second annual program, set for fall of 2023.
“The Phoenix Festival is a celebration of New York arts, culture and history, and brings world class programming to local communities,” said Craig Smith, Phoenix Festival Executive Director. “A key goal is to increase tourism — attracting visitors to Nyack and Rockland County as a destination for unique experiences in a magnificent Hudson Valley setting. The 2023 grant will support our continuing success in meeting that goal.”
“New York State continues to demonstrate its support for local tourism events. We’re grateful to receive this award which will ensure the Festival’s continued success,” said Lucy Redzeposki, Rockland County’s Director of Economic Development and Tourism. “We invite everyone to explore, experience and enjoy everything that Rockland County has to offer.”
The 2022 Festival was created on the premise of attracting visitors and generating positive, measurable economic impacts, investing over $200,000 in the local economy. More than 80% of program production dollars went to local businesses for services such as sound engineering, scenery and set building, bus and limo services, housing and catering.
Exceeding expectations for community support, local businesses responded in kind, contributing more than $30,000 in direct funding, with commitments to contribute again in 2023. In post-Festival interviews, participating businesses reported increases in patronage overall and increases in visitors from other communities, as well as an enthusiastic Festival “buzz” — enhancing the brand for Nyack and Rockland as a vibrant arts community.
For the 2023 program, Smith and the Festival team plan to build on the 2022 experience with tourism as the cornerstone. Key to the proposition is converting firsttime visitors to returning guests, and to accomplish that, introducing newcomers to Nyack’s and Rockland’s outdoor recreation opportunities, one-of-a-kind shops, top flight dining, friendly pubs, live music and vibrant nightlife. Connections with local businesses and arts organizations will be key.
The 2022 Festival program included over a dozen outdoor performances of three classic plays by Thornton Wilder, Oscar Wilde and Anton Chekov — presented by the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble over five weekends in September and October. Also featured were performances by Rockland’s Children’s Shakespeare Theatre company and events created and hosted by local non-profits ArtsRock, Rivertown Film, Edward Hopper House Museum and Study center, Rockland Poets, Nyack Library and the Historical Society of the Nyacks.
Beyond the theatre performances, visitors enjoyed a concert of original art songs inspired by the work of renowned American painter Edward Hopper, and a multifaceted celebration of the career of actor and philanthropist Helen Hayes and husband playwright and screenwriter Charles MacArthur. The homes of Hopper and Hayes are located in the center of Nyack, and an audio/virtual reality walking tour of these sites was specially created for the 2022 Festival.
Tourism was key to the 2022 Festival’s success. In addition to funding from national institutions, substantial contributions from local agencies provided a solid foundation for the Festival launch. The 2022 festival delivered, with nearly 60% of tickets purchased by visitors from outside Rockland County. New York State theater-goers came from New York City, Westchester and Long Island. One New York visitor described it as “an E-Z Pass to outdoor theater heaven.”
Out-of-state visitors came from New Jersey, Arkansas, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, among other states. Notably, the 10,000+ unique visitors to the Festival website included a contingent from countries outside the U.S.
Bob Provost, President and CEO of the New York State Tourism Industry Association, said, “New York State is rich in American culture, history and natural beauty, and tourism is a catalyst for a broad spectrum of economic development in communities across the Empire State. Events like the Phoenix Festival support efforts to promote New York as a unique, world class destination for visitors from across the U.S. and abroad. Ultimately, the goal is for the residents and communities of New York to derive benefit from improved standard of living, quality of life, and pride of place.”
A big draw is the outdoor setting for theater performances at Marydell Faith and Life Center in Upper Nyack. Another critical factor is the creativity and quality of the productions. Founded in New York City in 2004, the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble is recognized worldwide as a producer of premier theater events. As one audience member remarked, “I’m blown away by the quality — New York City-level art right here in Nyack.”
While continuing to perform in New York City, the Ensemble has clearly made a successful transition from the footlights of Broadway to the foot of Rockland’s Hook Mountain, and theater critics agree.
“The Festival is a substantial tour de force” said Hi Drama critic W. Cataldi. “World class performances…You won’t regret a visit to this magical town [Nyack].”
Broadway Radio said, “Phoenix Theatre Festival is doing something wonderful.”
TheatreScene from NYC traveled to Nyack and rated the Festival’s production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Being Earnest as one of the top ten productions of 2022.
Programming for the 2023 Festival is underway, and will include live theater, dance and music, as well as connections with local businesses and special events hosted by local arts organizations. Details will be announced in February 2023. In addition to the grant from New York State, the 2023 Festival will be supported by Rockland County’s office of Economic Development and Tourism.
“Taking a step into a completely new endeavor takes faith — not to mention the patience to wait out two years of a pandemic,” said Smith. “Building on the faith placed in us for the 2022 Festival, we’re looking forward to even more success in 2023, and to many years of collaboration that will bring continuing joy, growth and prosperity to New York State and our local communities.”