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The Big Apple Circus, a New York and national cultural treasure for nearly four decades, announced today that it has filed a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.


During the bankruptcy case, the Big Apple Circus intends to continue operating some of its community programs, which may be transitioned to other suitable nonprofit organizations, and to sell certain of its assets. In the meantime, the bankruptcy filing preserves the opportunity to restart the Big Apple Circus’ one-ring show, either with new financial support or through a sale of the circus to a buyer interested in doing so.

Since its founding in 1977, the Big Apple Circus has performed its annual one-ring show under the Big Top for millions of children, families, and fans of all ages and means, in its New York City home at Lincoln Center and on tour. Over the years, the nonprofit organization expanded its mission to include special performances for children who are blind, deaf, on the autism spectrum, and/or have other physical or cognitive disabilities, as well as a variety of community programs, like Clown Care®, which brings laughter and joy to aid the healing process of patients in leading pediatric hospitals nationwide.

In June, Big Apple Circus launched an emergency “Save the Circus” campaign with hopes to raise sufficient funds to begin production of a show for the 2016-2017 season. Despite receiving contributions from more than 1,400 donors, the Big Apple Circus fell short of its fundraising goal and made the difficult decision not to proceed with the upcoming performance season. The Circus determined that the best course of action to honor its mission and maximize value for its creditors was to commence a Chapter 11 case to effect an orderly wind down of the Circus’ affairs.

“We are eternally grateful for the support provided by audiences and donors over almost 40 years, and to all of the artists, crew, staff, and Clown Doctors who have provided joy, wonder, and inspiration to so many. Thanks, Paul and Michael. And thanks to founding board chair Alan Slifka and to the amazing board members who are with us still,” said Big Apple Circus executive director Will Maitland Weiss. “We are working to ensure that the spirit of the Big Apple Circus will live on.”

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP is serving pro bono as Big Apple Circus’ legal counsel in the bankruptcy case.

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