Local performing arts and music venues on ‘New York Arts Revival’ want a seat at the table

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — This past Tuesday, Governor Cuomo unveiled a new plan to help kickstart the arts and support artists in New York State. He called it the “New York Arts Revival.” Some highlights:

  • Creating an infrastructure for rapid COVID testing for businesses and venues
  • Pop-up concerts featuring “top-tier entertainers and arts organizations,” which include artists like Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, (Rochester’s own) Renée Fleming, Wynton Marsalis, and Hugh Jackman
  • Helping the 500,000 arts workers across the state, as well as what the governor calls a “$120 billion dollar industry”

Erica Fee, the producer of the Rochester Fringe Festival says she thinks this new initiative will help performing arts centers plan ahead for the future. She says this will instill more confidence in private donors, who can now be confident their donations will go toward institutions that will actually be reopening.

More| Rochester events organizers optimistic about Gov. Cuomo’s ‘New York Arts Revival’ plan

“I guess I don’t know what the plan is,” said Mark Cuddy, the artistic director at Geva Theatre Center. “I don’t know the details of the plan. I understand that the state could not give us any information beforehand, as much as we’ve asked to. Will (it) be three months from now, will we have limited capacity?”

Cuddy also says that the governor has a habit of announcing plans in a flashy manner, and often doesn’t have conversations with businesses or centers that would be directly affected by these new plans or initiatives. Or to put it more bluntly:

“I wonder where that table is,” Cuddy said.

He echoes what many other venue owners — small, medium, or somewhat large — are saying.

Geoff Dale, the Minister of Mayhem at Three Heads Brewing, has seen his venue devoid of concerts for a months at a time; whether it was when the initial shutdown happened, or when changes to State Liquor Authority guidance essentially snuffed out paid shows in our area by only allowing “incidental” (non-ticket, non-advertised) music.

More| NYS adds language clarification for ‘incidental’ music following increase in advertised events

“I just think that it would be nice if I felt like more venues were brought to the table to have this discussion,” Dale said. “If you’re going to do things to try and impact us, why don’t you ask us what we need instead of trying to decide without talking to us.”

Both Dale and Cuddy discussed another issue they had with the governor’s address:

“The announcement was very New York City-centric,” Cuddy said. “There’s New York City and then there’s the rest of the state. And that’s always been the case.”

Dale says this kind of thinking creates roadblocks for areas that aren’t the Big Apple.

“They’re probably talking to Broadway, but Broadway is just a whole different animal,” Dale said. “It’s like talking about a high school basketball game, but going through the NBA to figure it out.”

Dale says that cities and areas outside of New York City should be given more flexibility how to handle the issue of live music and performance, not only to keep the music alive, but also to support the local economy.

“I don’t think any of the music venues that I know of in town have been talked to,” Dale said. “It sure it would have gone through to me, and it hasn’t. I appreciate the gesture…

“It just seems like it really doesn’t impact me, and it doesn’t impact most of my friends in this like Photo City, Flour City Station, Abilene, these places aren’t getting helped by this,” Dale said. “And so it looks good on paper, but in reality, how is it really helping?”

During the summer, Dale and the brewery hosted a live-streamed concert series, which was shut down with the SLA clarified guidance. In this series, Dale kept the brewery well under capacity and enforced the rules, with greater than required social distancing between the performers and the audience, and he was able to help pass along the spoils.

More| Three Heads shows canceled, ROC Chamber says livestreamed concerts can happen without audience

“The bands were making out, and my employees,” Dale said. “I was actually able to pay employees and people in the arts.

“(We paid) our sound guy who doesn’t have other means of making money, and we had a bartender that was able to make some tips,” Dale said. “We had three employees making money bands that were actually able to pay and use money to maybe go and record an album for their stuff, or pay their rent for their band practice space.”

Dale believes this kind of strictly enforced small space is far less than ideal, but it’s the best we can hope for to keep the arts, and independent artists, going.

Cuddy also agrees that more relief should go to the independent artists. He says Geva Theatre Center now has federal options for funding, giving the recent passing of our “Save our Stages bill, and the new round of PPP funding for non-profits.

“If the governor says there are 500,000 jobs in the cultural sector in the state, so how many of those are independent artists?” Cuddy said. “Whichever way the state can in terms of rent relief in terms of grants, (or) any other kind of support, that that’s my wish for this.”

As far as implementing the rapid testing before shows, both Cuddy and Dale said that this would create bottlenecking at their venues. Dale also said that for the amount of people who attend his shows, the rapid testing might not even make sense.

But despite the issues they have with the governor’s plan, both can agree: this a step in the right direction.

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