How do we bring back the arts and culture sector that’s been devastated by COVID-19? The Empire State can’t come back without the cultural assets that accounted for nearly eight percent of New York’s economy, including nearly 500,000 jobs. Realizing that, Governor Andrew Cuomo has now launched a public-private partnership to “reimagine and rebuild” to bring back the arts in 2021.
The state is set to “provide staffing support, marketing, and access to world-class, open air, and spacious venues.” It will also look at large indoor spaces to explore safe opening possibilities. The Mellon Foundation has pledged to fund dozens of community arts groups state wide.
It’s an ambitious and welcome plan to bring back live performances. There’ll be over 100 pop-up arts events across the state beginning in February, involving some 2,000 locally based organizations. In New York City, performance venues included are the Park Avenue Armory, Harlem Stage, St. Ann’s Warehouse, the National Black Theater, and the Queens Theater. All are flexible locations that can be adapted for social distancing.
In a complementary move, The National Endowment for the Arts has come out with “The Art of Reopening,” a guide outlining best practices geared to current COVID-19 requirements.
In touting his “New York Arts Revival,” the Governor named Broadway first among the unique cultural assets that are fundamental to the economy and the spirit of New York. According to The Broadway League trade group, Broadway ticket sales for the 2019 second week in March — before the March 12th shutdown — was $853 million. Broadway alone added more than $14 billion to the city’s economy in the season before all theaters went dark.
But after giving Broadway a shout out, the Great White Way isn’t specifically mentioned in the governor’s Arts Revival initiative. Further, Cuomo has announced no protocols for theaters to follow to reopen safely anywhere in the state and, most noticeably, for Broadway.
This isn’t the first time that Cuomo has overlooked professional theater. His Phased Plan to Re-Open the state, announced with fanfare in the spring of last year, neglected to include arts and culture in its 116 member NY Forward Advisory Board.
Movers and Shakers
On the bright side, the Arts Revival initiative is spearheaded by two powerful city-based movers and shakers: Tribeca Film Festival’s Jane Rosenthal and Scott Rudin, the film and Broadway producer of hits like “The Book of Mormon.” Rudin is one of the ever- optimistic Broadway producers currently scheduling and re-scheduling live shows — and moving opening dates as the pandemic continues to dictate. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is on track to return, and the revival of “Death of a Salesman” starring Nathan Lane is now planned for the 2021-2022 season.
Dr. Anthony Fauci recently told arts professionals that he could see theaters opening in the fall of 2021, depending on what happens with vaccine distribution. To give you an idea of the fluidity of the situation, consider “The Devil Wears Prada” musical. The production has pushed back its Chicago premiere date to July 2022, a full year later than its previous plan. The Broadway premiere would now be even later than that.
The City’s Department of Cultural Affairs has come through with $47.1 million in grants to over 1,000 non-profits, including the Roundabout Theater Company, Playwrights Horizons, and the National Black Theater. New York’s Senator Chuck Schumer was instrumental in the inclusion of Save Our Stages in the federal relief legislation passed in December. With Schumer as the Senate Majority Leader after January 20th, the arts community is hopeful that more help will soon be coming.
The #ArtsHero initiative is planning a nationwide effort of 100 Days of Art and Activism, launching a letter-writing campaign to the inaugurated President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Over 200 Playwrights, composers, lyricists, librettists, and others aim to mirror the 100 days of the new administration. Their hope is to make the arts and culture sector a national top priority.
As a former theater critic, I’ve marveled at how the New York theater community has risen to the horrific challenge caused by COVID: the creative galas and celebrity virtual events, and the streaming of faux theatrical evenings. These have brought comfort to many during these tough times. But they cannot take the place of live performances.
Broadway won’t be the same, but it will be back.
Andrew Cuomo said, “New York City is not New York without Broadway.” The truth of that statement is undeniable.
Are you listening, Governor?