Saving the circus

The Big Apple Circus, which has delighted families at Cunningham Park and Lincoln Center for more than 30 years, is on the verge of extinction.

Founded by two American jugglers back in 1977, Big Apple is actually a nonprofit that brings circus arts to children across the country as well as youngsters in 50 pediatric hospitals. Circus performers make “clown rounds” to about 250,000 hospitalized children every year, using humor as a healing tool.

The raising of the Big Top tent in Cunningham Park is a highly anticipated annual event for the borough and provides a roof over 1,700 seats priced to entertain as many children as possible.

The classic one-ring circus has introduced wide-eyed youth to thrilling acrobatics, gentle animal acts and amusing clown capers, which satisfy audiences even though there are no tigers, lions or bears. There was a shadow over this year’s performance in Fresh Meadows, however. It was no secret that the circus had been struggling in recent years, but the situation has become dire. On the final day of the Queens performances, June 12, co-founders Paul Binder and Michael Christensen appealed for donations to keep the circus alive.

Their goal is to raise $2 million so that Big Apple can stage its fall production at Lincoln Center in Manhattan, support its community programs and keep more shows in New York City.

The award-winning circus, which had its first tent-raising in Battery Park City in 1977, was hurt by the 2008 recession, the Boston bombing, Superstorm Sandy and an Atlanta ice storm. These events depressed ticket sales and left the nonprofit in a precarious state. Layoffs and pay cuts followed.

Contributions have been coming in at a rapid clip, but $2 million is only a quick fix.

The Big Apple Circus needs an infusion of serious funds to get back on its feet and to continue its ambitious mission. Three hospitals in New York City—Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, Harlem Children’s Hospital and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer—count on the nonprofit to visit their young patients.

In fact, the circus, which is headquartered in Brooklyn, helped fund the Harlem Hospital Center back in the 1960s.

It’s time for the city to extend a lifeline to the Big Apple Circus, whether through discretionary funds from elected officials, contributions from some well-heeled private citizens or a public interest campaign to save the organization.

Our hometown circus has touched the hearts of people across the city. It would be a shame to let it die without mounting a major rescue effort.

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