There’s nothing like NYC’s innate ability to adapt to the circumstances — no matter how hard they’ve been. A remarkably resilient facet of NYC is its beloved art scene, which Frederica Wald is naturally quite of. From the performing arts to the visual, artists show their hunger to keep the creativity flowing through every street.
Starting Up Again
Economic loss and unemployment struck performers hard. Film and television production halted, Broadway shut down, museums closed their doors, and smaller venues were left with the uncertainty of if they’d ever open again.
In Fall 2020, we first saw a spark for the arts when museums were permitted to open their doors once again. Though capacity was limited, New Yorkers didn’t hesitate to show up for what they missed. Today, locals and tourists are returning to museums like the MET, MoMA, and Whitney.
Another glimmer of hope came from Mayor Bill DeBlasio, who announced in May 2021 a $25 million grant program called City Artists Corps specifically to employ artists to create public works. Artists could apply for a grant through the New York Foundation for the Arts. The application cycle has since ended, but we’re excited to see what the funds will produce in the future.
However, this funding alone isn’t the only thing bringing back the arts. Creatives all over the five boroughs found inspiration and assistance from the surrounding communities.
How The Arts Have Struggled
As the arts find their footing once again, it has not been without sacrifice and extreme change.
In March 2021, as many industries returned to operation, the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry had the lowest amount of employees in the private sector. The rate was 49,000 compared to the total of 350,600 employed persons. Despite these unprecedented numbers, art spaces reluctantly made staff and programming cuts to survive.
The strategy has proven effective so far, but the actual test remains.
The Perils of Broadway
Broadway shows heavily depend on tourism for funding, and we’re not expecting pre-pandemic tourist numbers any time soon. To help, performances will run on reduced scheduling for producers to measure demand.
Hope for Other Cultural Centers
Attendance has been up in other cultural centers, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but not at pre-pandemic levels. Freddi Wald is relieved to see visitors pour through the entrance again, but the museum still faces a loss in profit. Since tourism took a hit, most museum-goers are New York residents, who aren’t required to pay an entry fee for admission.
The music scene has faced its fair share of troubles, too. The Metropolitan Opera still is uncertain about its ability to re-open alongside Broadway this fall. The institution is negotiating pay cuts with orchestra members, who the opera previously furloughed with no compensation. Small concert venues relied on grants and the city’s permission to re-open but are finally welcoming audiences again.
Nightlife Goes Dark
Nightlife performances, like the NYC drag and burlesque scene, lost out even more than others. Government grants or assistance didn’t necessarily cover these artists.
Nightlife performance is known for opening its doors to lower economic classes, different ethnic backgrounds, and LGBTQ members. These communities, in particular, were more likely to suffer during pandemic times, even outside job loss. Additionally, performance venues often included bars and clubs, and the pandemic forced the closure of many.
The NYC drag and burlesque scene worked hand-in-hand to create virtual fundraisers and online events to pay performers. Fundraisers like these helped prevent houselessness and further financial ruin.
A Look At A New Life In The Arts
Classic Theater of Harlem and Shakespeare in the Park has preceded the fall opening of Broadway with their contemporary productions of classics. It’s exhilarating to see the long-standing tradition of outdoor plays return. And as September approaches, we’re all eager to see Broadway stages light up once again.
Concert venues, large and small, welcome guests with open arms and masked faces. So, if you’re eager to see The Eagles or Harry Styles play at Madison Square Garden, you’re in luck. Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge continue to release their talent line-up, from local performers to big names.
Like The Shed and Whitney, a few scenes offer virtual experiences to offset profit loss from reduced attendance.
As for the NYC drag and burlesque scene, live shows returned just in time for Pride 2021. Although not every venue saw re-opening, significant players like House of Yes and 3 Dollar Bill have filled their schedules with drag queens and burlesque performers.
Final Thoughts — Hope for the NYC Arts
Whoever said this industry was dead was dead wrong. Sure, the NYC scene struggled alongside us all, and for a moment, it all looked grim. Everyone working in the arts knows NYC still pulses with creativity. There’s a long road ahead of us, but we have fuel, and we’ll drive forward.