ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — One of the main topics featured in the second part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s annual State of the State Address Tuesday was a new initiative called the “New York Arts Revival.”
The governor described the initiative as a public-private partnership to help usher the arts back into the community, and one that local advocates were happy to hear about.
“Well, I have to say that it’s a pleasant surprise,” said Erica Fee, producer of the Rochester Fringe Festival. “Of course, you know, we, the arts have kind of been so beaten up throughout all of this, that any good news is always a little bit of a shock.
“It provides the arts with some hope,” she said.
The governor says the state is looking to achieve this by focusing on outdoor events, as well as establishing a rapid COVID-19 testing network to help businesses reopen with reduced capacity restrictions. Gov. Cuomo added the state would establish hundreds of rapid tests sites throughout New York to reopen businesses with science and safety in mind.
He said a similar model used for the Buffalo Bills playoff game, which allowed fans in the stadium for the first time this season, was an “inarguable success.” He said the same model can apply to the arts, cultural events, concerts, and more.
Fee says this is crucial to arts organizations because — despite her wishes — arts events, concerts, plays and the like, don’t just happen overnight. The arts community was dying for a way to plan, she says, and this at least gives organizations a skeleton of a structure to work around.
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Fee adds that she also believes this ability to plan and reopen will instill more confidence in private donors, who can now be more sure they’re donating to institutions that will actually be reopening.
“Testing is the key to reopening our economy before the vaccine hits critical mass,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Rapid testing poses great possibilities, as it can be completed in as little as 15 minutes.”
The governor in his address also discussed both the human element, as well as the broader economic impact that the arts have. In his address Tuesday, he said the arts and cultural industry accounts for almost half a million jobs and generates $120 billion in economic activity annually for New York state.
Fee add thats two new layers of protection for artists came around this new year: The passing of the “Save our Stages Act,” as well as a new round of PPP funding for non-profits. While she says that organizations can’t get both, it’s something to help during the winter before the summer festival season.
“This is very good news for a lot of the festivals and outdoor events, events which safety experts have set sights on for some time,” she said, also describing Rochester as a well-known festival city. “We will have to re-imagine of course still how some of these festivals and events happen. I’m sure there’s going to have to be ticketed entry, but there are ways for us to function in a safe way.”
To achieve this plan, the state will start a series of pop-up concerts — with a target date of February 4th, featuring “top-tier entertainers and arts organizations” — that will follow this new testing protocol, as well as New York State Health Department guidelines.
Fee says that they also seem to be targeting outdoor shows, a direction she has been championing since the early summer.
“We need (shows) as well for our self-esteem and to give us as a community, a boost,” she said. “So I really hope that like there isn’t a single night, let’s say this summer at Frontier Field where there isn’t a ball game, there’s a show. I think there’s a lot of creative ways that we can do that.”
She says if the state and organizers can tap into this creativity and any resources they can use, this has the potential to be a “very special summer.”
But for some shutdown in the orange zone waiting to reopen, they say Cuomo’s speech was just more of the same.
“How does that really help the local artists and those associated with artists… like waiters and waitresses and bartenders?” says Mark Ippolito, Director of Operations for Comedy @ the Carlson.
Ippolito says he’s not getting his hopes up for the near future, especially if rapid testing becomes a requirement for entry (the tests are currently about $60 a pop). He says the past year has seen too many stops, starts, re-starts, and shutdowns; “we’ve been let down, unfortunately,” he says.
Like Ippolito, Phil Fitzsimmons of live music venue ‘Anthology’, can’t reopen, but feels this is a solid move. “Anything we can do to get (arts) back up and running is really important to all of us,” says Fitzsimmons.
Fee does add that she recently attended a webinar with Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH earlier this week, who said that performing arts centers and theatre won’t feasible to open until October or November.
That said, Fee is grateful to see what she views as a reversal from the governor’s office: recognizing that arts are both something we crave, and something that supports the economy. Not to mention providing a relief from some quarantine fatigue.
“To reopen New York City, you’ve got to have Broadway,” she said. “There’s been a realization that the arts are really not just a want they are need, because we really have an ecosystem here.
“It’s not just arts, it’s not just restaurants,” Fee said. “It’s not just manufacturing, it’s all of it. And we all work together. The arts — especially the performing arts — are a major, major economic driver.”
From the governor’s office:
“Safely Bringing Back the Arts with Pop-Up Performances and Events: New York is the cultural capital of the world. Our unique cultural assets — Broadway, museums, film, comedy, dance, and music — are fundamental to both the economy and the spirit of New York. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the $120 billion arts and cultural sector accounted for nearly eight percent of the state’s economy, and nearly 500,000 jobs. In less than a year, over two million jobs in the creative arts were lost nationally, including tens of thousands of jobs in New York.
New York State will launch a public-private partnership that will organize “pop-up” performances and arts events across the state beginning in February. More than 150 world-class artists including Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, Renée Fleming, Wynton Marsalis, and Hugh Jackman will participate, along with arts organizations such as the Ballet Hispanico, Ars Nova, the Albany Symphony Orchestra, the National Black Theatre, Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake, and many others supported by New York State Council on the Arts, which works with over 2,000 arts organizations across the state.”