Fight for the Arts and NYC
I'm back from vacation with a bee in my bonnet. Maybe it was the salt air (certainly wasn't the R&R, since you don't get that at the beach with a toddler), but I'm back with a renewed sense of fight and it's focused on saving arts and culture.
The Arts are New York's main economic driver. In 2019, Broadway sold more tickets than all the NY and NJ sports teams combined. Think about that. How much press have you seen about when sports will start up again? Now compare that to the amount of times you've seen or read about concern over theater resuming. Broadway had $1.83 BILLION in ticket sales last year. That's just ticket sales. It doesn't take into account money put into the economy from cab fares to shows, restaurant meals before shows, drinks after shows, or childcare during shows. It doesn't factor in all the artists, designers, craftspeople, and theater staff, who were employed on Broadway last year. Or the waiters, bussers, Lyft drivers, bartenders, and theatre staff, who are also now unemployed because the engine driving a huge portion of the economy in our city has vanished.
A study by the Mayor's office of Art and Entertainment last year found theater is responsible for $1.3 billion in economic output, 8,409 jobs, and $513 million in salaries. These are the basic numbers and they alone should be eye opening. Let's also consider the side effects for New York if we lose the arts industry. I wrote a post awhile back refuting the idea that New York will not recover from the pandemic. I thought it was a ridiculous notion because our city has recovered from every set back in history and still remains the address people dream about. Yet. We've never faced something that could wipe out the arts completely. Yes, we will always have stories and storytellers, so "theater" can never die. But I'm talking about the infrastructure that enables us to make money from telling these stories. If that goes away, SO much more will die with it.
I can't go down all the string-theory paths for every industry in the city, of what could happen if the arts die. But one industry I know something about is real estate. Thank goodness my second career is not in the food and hospitality industry, like so many other artists who are out of luck on both counts. I am so lucky to be supporting myself helping people buy and sell their homes. But what do you think will happen to real estate values if we lose the arts?
Before the pandemic, if you worked in finance in NYC, you probably had your choice of cities to live in and chose New York because of the culture it offered. Without it, how do we stand out from other large cities? Without the arts, we don't attract the same talent pool of people. Without the talent pool, do the big financial institutions still choose to locate here? Suddenly the city is losing big business and many of its most affluent spenders. So who wants to live here? Certainly not those who can afford $20M apartments. And you know what, you also lose all the artists who dominate the rental market in New York and keep the big landlords in business. Many people are saying, well it's just the highest end of the real estate market that is being hit, rents will just fluctuate and people will shuffle their living situations to accommodate working from home. Artists cannot work from home and will not be able to afford a home in New York. They will move back to their parents' basements in middle America, leaving countless apartments vacant. These are the dreamers who give the city its energy and therefore, its identity. Their dream is literally dying. And I would put the dreams of real estate developers in the same category.
Ok, enough doom and gloom, what do we do about it. Well, we need a cut of the stimulus the government is trying to dole out right now. And we need it to be proportionate to the money we artists put into the economy. There is a grassroots movement called Be An Arts Hero, working tirelessly to fight for arts funding. Their
asks—to extend unemployment compensation till the COVID crisis is over, a 100% COBRA subsidy to protect the healthcare of the artist community, relief administration run by the organizations best fit to disburse funds directly to the Arts & Culture community, access for arts non-profits to the Paycheck Protection Program, an update to the qualified Performing Artist tax deduction, and finally $43.85 billion committed to direct relief to the Arts and Culture economic sector.
Now is $43 billion proportionate to the need? Ten US airlines received $50 billion in CARES act relief. No one questions the necessity of keeping those planes flying. But Arts and Culture contributed $265 billion more to the US GDP than the whole US Transportation sector. To borrow a quote from fellow actor and arts advocate, Nick Westerate, " the airline industry has better lawyers." Well, I urge New Yorkers working in all sectors of our economy—real estate, law, finance, and the like, to recognize their jobs and lifestyle will also drastically suffer if the arts collapse. Use your attorneys and your influence and help our fight.
Germany allocated 58 billion Euros to the Arts & Culture sector. The U.K has passed over $2 billion, which is a drop in the bucket, but it's a start. I pray our country follows suit and recognizes the importance of saving our arts.
Please visit www.beanartshero.com to learn more and see what you can do to join the fight. There is a letter to the US senate you can sign, before their vote on August 1st, and other easy ways to support the movement. After that, stay tuned for updates on how we can proceed in rebuilding our arts community, and therefore ensure the future of New York City.