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SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: The Skaneateles Festival: It’s Music to our Ears

By Nancy Ansteth



Since 1980, The Skaneateles Festival, whose slogan is “world class music by the lake”), has brought classical music to the Finger Lakes region. Renowned talent has drawn audiences from the far reaches of the area. Venues have varied, with each providing just the right ambience. Whether in a barn, a library hall, an open field, or a vineyard, audiences have been treated to the uppermost levels of entertainment.

COVID-19 caused quite a void for supporters and participants of this August festival. However, August 2021 was not to be denied. It marked the 30th anniversary of the festival, entitled “Together Again in 2021” which welcomed an outstanding cast of performers from Aug. 12-28. Artistic directors Aaron Wunsch and Julia Bruskin captured the essence of this venue beautifully, “The past year has shown us just how central togetherness is to the musical experience. A concert is so much more than the music itself: it’s a life-affirming experience of art in community. It heals us, brings us joy, and makes us whole,” they said.

Pandemic effects

The Skaneateles Festival was forced to shutter in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic devastated so many cultural venues. On a local level, Jana Hexter, Grant Writer, and Susan Mark, Skaneateles Festival executive director, were vigilant for finding programs designed to support entertainment organizations that were negatively affected by the pandemic. They contacted the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Onondaga Community College to inquire about such programs. They were well-versed in what was required of them to ensure the security of this festival. Their expedience in submitting applications for funding resulted in the necessary support for the current and the upcoming seasons.

In April 2021, the U.S. Small Business Administration began accepting applications for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG). This grant program was designed as an additional economic lifeline for live venues, museums, movie theaters, and many other similar businesses that were among the first to shut down when the pandemic hit. Many of these venues and organizations also benefitted from the prior Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provided small businesses and noprofits with forgivable loans .Having received funds through both the PPP and the SVOG, Hexter and Mark explain the benefits the festival realized this way: 

“The PPP loan enabled us to keep our small but essential team employed during the darkest days of the pandemic. As a result, we were able to create a new partnership with WCNY and together we offered nine live events including four free evening concerts, four SkanFest U education classes, and a KidsFest educational program. The concerts were broadcast on WCNY-TV, simulcast on Classic FM radio and livestreamed. Although WCNY is unable to provide viewership numbers…we conservatively estimate having reached approximately 5 percent of their total viewing audience.

The SVOG grant allows us to enter the 2022 season with gusto. The 200th anniversary of the birth of Harriet Tubman in 2022 offers an opportunity for the Skaneateles Festival to present “Freedom Sounds,” a celebration of music that considers the question: what does freedom sound like? Educational and outreach events for children and young people will attract new listeners.”

While Hexter and Mark needed little encouragement with the funding programs, I maintained contact regularly to discuss the SVOG and to ensure no other opportunity was missed. Moreover, interaction with this festival’s promoters and volunteers provided insight into one of the region’s cultural highlights. Informing readers of the educational and support opportunities offered by the festival’s foundation deserve expanded publicity. At SBDC, we find it imperative to promote our clients’ community impact well after our initial contact has lapsed. 

As an SBDC advisor I remain invested in my clients’ success. Periodically, I check in with them to learn their plans — both long-term and short-term and broadcast them shamelessly. I feel a vested interest. As a member of the community, even more so. I encourage readers to visit to learn more about this Finger Lakes treasure both to participate and support. August 2022 will be here before we know it.

Advisor’s Business Tip: Maintain a connection with your SBDC advisor and SBDC center. As we tell you initially, we are here for all phases of your small business. Hit us with your questions and concerns as you operate; don’t hold off by second-guessing your decisions. As I tell clients, “Your advisor can serve as your Jiminy Cricket.” We won’t hesitate to give you an honest opinion.                     

Nancy Ansteth is a certified business advisor at the SBDC, located at OCC. Contact her at