By Gina Martinez
Big Apple Circus, a beloved non-profit that entertained families for decades, won’t be coming back for the 2016-17 season after not meeting its $2 million fund-raising goal. The New York staple has entertained families since 1977 with annual performances in Cunningham Park in Fresh Meadows and Lincoln Center in Manhattan.
The circus was founded by jugglers Paul Binder and Michael Christensen, who brought their act from England to the States. They started the non-profit as a mission to entertain and improve the lives of millions. Throughout the years Big Apple performances presented acrobats, clowns and animal acts that featured dogs and horses instead of the wild tigers and elephants found in most circuses, including Ringling Brothers.
Big Apple focused its efforts on helping young children through entertainment. Besides setting up their red-top tents that seated up to 1,700 for shows, Big Apple brought the circus to over 250,000 children in hospitals around the country, with its members performing “clown rounds.”
Financial struggles began in 2008 following the national recession. Wall Street had been a huge benefactor, providing up to $1 million a year in funds, which helped to keep the circus going. Events like Hurricane Sandy, the Boston Marathon bombing and the Atlanta ice storm kept people from attending shows, lowering ticket sales and enlarging Big Apple’s deficit.
An online campaign raised some money with donations ranging up to $50,000, but the Big Apple principals hoped that an emergency fund-raiser would get the attention of big donors. To their surprise, no one stepped up. They raised only $900,000, far short of their $2 million goal, which would have allowed Big Apple to continue staging their shows in New York City.
In a statement, Executive Director Will Maitland Weiss, said the 2016-2017 performances would have to be canceled but the funds raised will go to already running community programs like Clown Care, which sends clowns to pediatric hospitals across the country to lift the spirits of young patients undergoing treatment.
Weiss promised to continue charitable work and hinted at the possibility of returning.
“Our deepest thanks go out to the many people who sent donations and voiced their support for the circus,” he said. “While the response was heartening, we ultimately did not raise enough cash to go forward with rehearsals and ticket marketing in August. However, we will continue operating Clown Care and other community programs and hope to be able to return to performing under our Big Top in a later season, including offering our specially adapted performances for children and families affected by physical and/or cognitive challenges.“
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart